When The Moral Compass Goes Haywire


When I first began playing Dungeons & Dragons at the tender age of eight, I was fascinated by the alignment chart in the blue Basic Set rulebook. I did not understand it. I asked my father to explain it to me, but not being a gamer, he was unable to shed much illumination on the subject. Now, a little over twenty-four years later, I find I still have not received an explanation of the D&D alignment system to entirely satisfy my curiosity.

The Trouble With D&D Alignments

When I first began playing Dungeons & Dragons at the tender age of eight, I was fascinated by the alignment chart in the blue Basic Set rulebook. I did not understand it. I asked my father to explain it to me, but not being a gamer, he was unable to shed much illumination on the subject. Now, a little over twenty-four years later, I find I still have not received an explanation of the D&D alignment system to entirely satisfy my curiosity.

I have spoken to many people and have had many discussions and arguments on the subject. What frustrates me most about the D&D alignment system is that experienced gamers seem to have no better handle on it than the greenest newbies.

I read Scorpio's "Alignment Refinement" article, and I found myself shaking my head in disagreement. The same thing happened when I read the alignment archetypes in Aeon Michaels' "Which Star Wars Character Do You Role-Play?" article. Now, both of these guys have been playing D&D about as long as I have. They both seem to be intelligent and educated individuals. Is it possible the three of us have come to three different conclusions about the nature of D&D alignments because we're forcing misguided interpretations on the source material? Is the problem they're both wrong somehow and I've got the "most legitimate" interpretation of the system? Or that one of them is right and the other two of us are wildly off base? I don't think any of these interpretations is accurate. I think the problem is that the source material is fundamentally flawed.

I hate the D&D alignment system. I don't think it works very well, and I'm amazed it has survived with relatively few changes through edition after edition of D&D. It is maddeningly ambiguous, and is conducive to certain very mindless forms of role-play. The d20 system managed to streamline D&D's saving throws, classes, spells, and initiative rolls. These are important mechanics, and they should be interpretable in the same way by different observers, so two people who have never met before might sit down at a table and play an enjoyable game with the same understanding of the rules. That I have yet to meet two D&D gamers with exactly the same perception of a mechanic as fundamental as character alignment says to me that the system has a serious problem.

The Rules Understate The Importance Of Alignment

Part of the problem seems to be the 3rd Edition designers undervalued the importance of alignment as a core mechanic. Both the 3rd Edition and 3.5 Player's Handbooks contain the following passage: "Alignment is a tool for developing your character's identity. It is not a straitjacket for restricting your character."

This attitude is short-sighted, and the statement is misleading. Barbarians, Bards, Clerics, Druids, Monks, and Paladins all suffer some kind of penalty for switching to prohibited alignments. That's over half the classes in the game! In some cases, such as the Cleric and the Paladin, alignment changes can result in the loss of all class-related skills. Clearly, alignment as a game mechanic is more important than just "a tool for developing your character's identity." In a very explicit sense, your character's alignment determines what he can or cannot do.

The creators of AD&D acknowledged this. The AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide penalized alignment-changing characters with the loss of a full level of experience. In addition, involuntary alignment changes required massive atonements to rectify, whereas the negative effects of voluntary alignment changes could not be mitigated at all. Gygax writes, "Although it is possible for a character to allow himself or herself to be blown by the winds as far as alignment is concerned, he or she will pay a penalty which will effectively damn the character to oblivion."

That's strong language. Even though the d20 rules have toned down the penalties associated with switching alignment, such penalties still exist for the majority of all character classes. Strangely, the two-page description of alignment in the most recent versions of the Player's Handbook makes no mention of these penalties at all, nor does the passage on changing alignments in the most recent Dungeon Master's Guides.

Furthermore, there are a slew of alignment-specific spells and magic items that target specific alignments. Powerful spells such as Shield of Law and Dictum can make a player's choice of alignment very significant indeed. Being told alignment is not a straitjacket is cold comfort when your character could be killed without a saving throw.

Alignment is not a minor mechanic to be shunted to the Description chapter with eye-color and favored food. No matter what your choice of alignment, the decision is likely to affect your character in some important way.

Alignments Aren't Tied to Specific Behaviors

In the section titled "Changing Alignment," both of the recent (3rd Edition and 3.5) versions of the Dungeon Master's Guide contain this passage: "If a player says, 'My neutral good character becomes chaotic good,' the appropriate answer is 'prove it.'" In my opinion, the appropriate player response to such a question is, "how?" There are no hard and fast guidelines for D&D alignments.

This is the crux of the problem with D&D alignments: the system gives us insufficient data with regard to what behaviors are associated with specific alignments. "Good," the Player's Handbook tells us, "implies altruism, respect for life, and a concern for the dignity of sentient beings. Good characters make personal sacrifices to help others." But it doesn't tell us what kind of sacrifices, or how often they should be made. Where does a DM draw the line between a good character and a neutral one? The choice is arbitrary.

On the other hand, "Evil implies hurting, oppressing, and killing others." But good characters can certainly hurt, oppress, and kill evil ones. Or can they? Perhaps the difference is, as the Player's Handbook continues, that "Some evil creatures simply have no compassion for others and kill without qualms. . . others actively pursue evil, killing for sport or out of duty to some evil deity or master." But when you consider a paladin is often expected to kill evil creatures out of duty to some good deity or master, the moral lines start to become muddied. How far can a holy warrior's holy war go? A paladin cannot resort to evil means, or she will no longer be a paladin. We need a strict definition of what makes evil creatures evil, and we just don't have one.

To cite an example that has plagued me in numerous D&D campaigns, can good creatures torture evil ones? The Player's Handbook is ominously silent on this matter. Or let's say a paladin slays the warriors of an evil tribe of goblins guarding an unholy shrine, and then discovers the goblin women and children cowering behind a tapestry. These creatures detect evil (because the Monster Manual says they do!), but are unarmed and helpless. What does the paladin do in this situation? Does he slaughter them all because they're evil, or must he let them go because they're helpless non-combatants? D&D has led us into the Bermuda Triangle of moral behavior, and our compass has gone haywire.

Furthermore, the Player's Handbook tells us neutral characters have compunctions against the killing of innocents. Leaving the problematic definition of "an innocent" to one side, what about harming innocents? The Player's Handbook doesn't say anything about that. How often, and how severely, can a neutral character harm innocents before she becomes evil?

In AD&D, only evil characters were allowed to use poison. Though 3rd Edition has dropped this prohibition, it illustrates my point: what one observer sees as evil by definition may not be evil at all to another. Though I wonder why AD&D forbade good and neutral characters to use poison (it's ok to hack someone to death with a sword but not ok to poison him?), I am not amused that 3rd Edition removed one of the only specific definitions of evil behavior from the game and did not bother to replace it.

In the movie Unforgiven, Clint Eastwood's character William Munny walks into a saloon where his dead friend Ned Logan lies on display outside the door. Munny asks to know the owner of the bar. When Skinny, the proprietor, identifies himself, Munny shoots him dead. Gene Hackman's character, the Sheriff Little Bill, calls Munny a coward and observes, "You've just shot an unarmed man." Munny replies: "He should've armed himself if he's gonna go decorating his saloon with my friend." Here's a question for all you DMs out there: was Munny's action evil (Skinny was arguably an 'innocent' because he had no weapon and never harmed anyone directly), neutral (Munny is avenging the desecration of his friend's body), or even good (Skinny treats the prostitutes who work for him as his property, and arguably represents the forces of corruption in the town that led to the un-avenged disfigurement of one of the prostitutes and the death by torture of Ned Logan)? My crystal ball tells me different DMs will judge the same action in different ways.

The designers' double use of the word "implies" is significant. The D&D alignment system relies so heavily on implicit information that the arbiter of alignment change can only be the DM. Players have no chance of governing this change unless they know exactly what the DM's interpretation of each alignment is. If the players have merely read the rules, and have never discussed alignment with their DM, they're likely to encounter a difference of opinion when it comes time to judge their characters on the basis of their actions. In any such difference of opinion, it's usually the DM whose interpretation prevails.

Ambiguity Causes Confusion and Dissent

As a player, the ambiguity of the alignment system can be maddening. If one DM allows good characters to torture evil creatures for information and another DM interprets the act of torture as evil enough to cause a change in alignment, players moving between the two are bound to feel frustrated and confused.

In an example from my recent experience, I have a player who prefers to play Chaotic Neutrals. I told her a Chaotic Neutral character was pretty much free to do as she chose. She asked me, "Can I attack other party members if they annoy me?" I said, "Yes, but don't make a habit of it. If you kill another party member without a good reason, I'll shift you over to Chaotic Evil." She accepted this interpretation and played with the group without any disruptive incidents, excepting one time when she threw a fireball at a highly fire-resistant character because he was annoying her. He took no damage, and everybody laughed about it and moved on. Recently, this player and I have joined another campaign as players. The DM has told her flat-out his interpretation of Chaotic Neutral does not allow her to attack another party member under any but the most justified of circumstances (they're under enemy control, they attack her first, etc). The consequence is that she thinks his interpretation of alignment is limp-wristed, and she feels she is not being allowed to play the character she wants to play.

I've encountered similar problems myself. As a DM with a very strict interpretation of what constitutes Good behavior, I take good alignments very seriously when I am a player. Once I joined a game of hack'n'slashers as a Chaotic Good rogue. When I constantly wanted to rescue the prisoners we found and nearly came to blows with a "neutral good" character over whether or not to torture a captive goblin for information, the other players accused me of being more of a goody-two-shoes than the party paladin. The sad thing is that they were right: my rogue was by far the most scrupulous member of the group. Their DM was used to letting them get away with murder (literally!), so they couldn't understand my character's motivations at all.

When Detected Alignment Replaces Moral Choice

In the comments section of my own "How Typical is Stereotypical?" article, Memehunter reminded me of a very annoying and silly phenomenon that arises from the D&D alignment system: the "radar gamer." In her example, good-aligned characters used the Detect Evil spell and paladin ability as a moral litmus test. Whenever an NPC tested positive for evil, they killed him on the spot.

This is the worst kind of systemic exploitation I can imagine, and I'm sad to say it is quite common in my experience. Rather than think about how their characters should behave, many players default to character powers and alignment preconceptions to do their thinking for them.

Does every evil person deserve to die? Clearly, our society doesn't think so, or the concepts of criminal rehabilitation and "not guilty by reason of insanity" would not exist. Moreover, is the honorable but ruthless assassin of the slayer's guild deserving of the same fate as the psychopathic, serial killer priest of the god of murder? D&D characters don't tend to think in these terms. We can attribute part of their mentality to the quasi-medieval setting of high fantasy, but the Player's Handbook must share the blame. I quote from the description of Lawful Good: "A lawful good character hates to see the guilty go unpunished. Alhandra, a paladin who fights evil without mercy and who protects the innocent without hesitation, is lawful good." When players read phrases such as "hates to see the guilty go unpunished" and "fights evil without mercy," what are they supposed to think? The Player's Handbook doesn't supply any specifics or clarification of these phrases, so many players feel quite justified in pursuing a high fantasy brand of instant justice.

What Can Be Done?

If you agree the D&D alignment system is too ambiguous to be useful, you need not despair. After all, the concept of fantasy role-play as made popular by D&D has brought many hours of entertainment to me and countless others over the decades. There are a number of possible solutions to the problem.

Use a different system. This is a painful thing for me to suggest, and many fans of d20 and dyed-in-the-wool D&D players will not seriously consider it. But if D&D is all you know, I encourage you to explore systems that describe behavior in different ways. Some systems, such as the admittedly flawed Palladium system, attempt to solve the problem by providing specific guidelines for each alignment. Other systems, such as GURPS and Call of Cthulhu, ignore the question of player character alignment entirely. GURPS compensates by using character disadvantages that can be assembled in many ways to represent such diverse human characteristics such as truthfulness, codes of honor, intolerance, sadism, and insanity.

Abolish alignments. Why not? If alignment is truly a tool for developing character identity, and not a straitjacket, as the Player's Handbook claims, then it is not necessary to enjoyment of the game. If you abolish alignments, however, you will need to revise the spell and magic items lists and do a little preparation for paladins and clerics. For paladins, take fifteen minutes to write out a "paladin's oath" that specifically outlines the behavioral requirements of the class. For clerics, you must communicate to any cleric PC what her sect expects of her. Where the spell list is concerned, you can simply remove all alignment-specific spells. However, you might want to modify certain spells such as Protection from Evil to become Protection from Outsiders, so they will still function against demons and the like. Alignment-specific magic items can similarly be altered to "bane"-type items affecting specific races or classes.

Use a different alignment system or associate alignments with specific behavior. I have always preferred the Palladium alignment system to the D&D alignment system, for the simple reason that Palladium explicitly states what kinds of behavior are appropriate to each alignment. Though it is not entirely consistent, the Palladium system at least seems headed in the right direction, and is far less prone to abuse and disparate interpretation. To provide a basis of comparison, let me quote the entirety of the Lawful Good entry from the Player's Handbook as well as the Principled alignment from Palladium. These two alignments are more or less equivalent in spirit, but have different applications to actual game mechanics because one is vague and the other specific.

D&D: "Lawful Good, 'Crusader': A lawful good character acts as a good person is expected or required to act. She combines a commitment to oppose evil with the discipline to fight relentlessly. She tells the truth, keeps her word, helps those in need, and speaks out against injustice. A lawful good character hates to see the guilty go unpunished. Alhandra, a paladin who fights evil without mercy and who protects the innocent without hesitation, is lawful good. Lawful good is the best alignment you can be because it combines honor and compassion."

Palladium: "Principled (good). Principled characters are generally the strong moral character[s]. Superman is of a principled alignment with the highest regard for others' lives, well being, truth, and honor. Principled characters will...
1. Always keep [their] word.
2. Avoid lies.
3. Never kill or attack an unarmed foe.
4. Never harm an innocent.
5. Never torture for any reason.
6. Never kill for pleasure.
7. Always help others.
8. Work well in a group.
9. Respect authority, law, self-discipline, and honor.
10. Never betray a friend."

If you don't want to adopt another alignment system wholesale (possibly because of the changes you might have to make to the spell and magic items lists), try using the Palladium example to draw up specific lists of behavior for each of the nine D&D alignments. It would only take an hour or two all told, and would be a small investment to keep your campaign free of ambiguity and frustration.

Limit the use of alignment detection. If your campaign is plagued by "radar gamers" who are using player powers in conjunction with alignment archetypes instead of using their brains, you can interdict the player powers in several ways. First, try increasing the number of alignment concealing devices used by NPCs. There are several items in the Dungeon Master's Guide to suit this purpose, and the Spymaster prestige class actually specializes in it. Second, try having detection-happy players encounter overwhelming signals. For example, if the paladin in your group is driving you mad by detecting evil every sixty feet, have him detect evil so strongly that he becomes ill. If his own power renders him incapacitated a time or two, he won't be so prone to abusing it. Third, enforce the law. The chances are good that the characters are inflicting frontier justice on inhabitants of civilized realms. As a GURPS supplement points out, the King may not understand why you killed the Necromancer in his basement if the Necromancer was a loyal, tax-paying subject. Clap your PCs in irons, and see if that doesn't inform them not everyone shares their interpretation of "justice."

In conclusion, I realize not everyone will share my perspectives on D&D alignments. However, I believe a reduction in the ambiguity level of the Player's Handbook can only have the result of improving the quality of your games and the moods of your players.

In his book Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett wrote that the world is full of evil people. . . but some of them are on different sides. This is the philosophy I go by; a priest of a good god whose attitude is akin to that of the Spanish Inquisition would register as "good" in regard to alignment-based magic, although as anybody can see, that priest probably should be taken out. Also, on the "killing unarmed people" problem: This is where it gets tricky. A lawful good character may view such a killing as a lawful execution, but only if he has irrefutable evidence.
Some people spend their entire lives trying to answer questions like this. The best I could do was use a simple solution: It's the thought that counts. The priest in the above situation is doing his work, misguided as it is, in the name of a good god. Not very good, but it works.

This has always been a problem of mine, which has more or less led me to abolish alignment from my game. It's always seemed to me that a single guiding principle that runs through every facet of a person's character seems like an incredibly rare thing.

Real people often shift up and down the scale of alignment in a given day. I've always considered it better roleplaying to actually THINK about your character's various traits and various responses than to stick to a single rule. Even laws aren't necessarily a good line to follow. A law may be unjust...in a society where it's legal to violate women, is a paladin being lawful if they sit by and watch it happen, or evil for letting a person suffer? There's such a variety of twists you can make to the concepts of law, chaos, good, and evil that the terms are practically meaningless when they're thought about.

I'm all for removing the alignment specific spells, and giving protections from outsiders...or it's possible to just take a looser view on it. Good and evil, for example, or lawful and chaotic.

Why don't you let the gods decide what is proper behaviour? Instead of focusing on the general (alignment), focus on the individual's devotion to their particular god and the behaviour that would be expected from His/Her/Its followers. You could craft your own "10 commandments" for each god if you wanted to (like what you did above with the list of what "principled" characters do), thereby creating unique role-playing opportunities for characters that are ostensibly of the same alignment (maybe one lawful good god wants his paladins to kill all evil on sight, maybe another cautions reflection and studied judgement).

I saw this problem back with second edition and was one of the many reasons I gave up on D&D for quite a while. When 3rd Ed. came out I refused to play it for some time but did eventually get into it and other d20 games. When I came to play 3rd I had been playing games that had no equivilent to alignment, like Shadowrun and White Wolf, so I practiaclly ignored allignment.

My point is that it is very possible to use allignment as it is described in the PHB. The only problem is that everyone needs to view allignment from a metagaming point of view, as in the players need to look at the allignment on the character sheet as th DM would, regardless of how the charater may interpret their actions.

i plan on bringing up this point at some time in my game. maybe the DM will do something about it.

Alignment in D&D, IMO, isn't the best played or designed aspect of it. It's too difficult to simply remove it from the game because it is tightly woven into the game mechanics - especially through spell effects.

By the same token, using Detect Evil, as it is written in the 3rd ed book, is hardly a very practical way to cheat the rules very well (it's not a very good "radar" when the lights go out). Also, the ethical "code" is helpful as a counterbalance to the advantages of some classes (ie Paladins).

When introducing the setting, I lay it out much like the Star Wars and LOTR universes - without a lot of moral relativism, and I ask my players to play within those bounds. It's not without problems, but it isn't that bad either if players are cooperative.

I love the subtle use of alignment. f'rinstance, I'm running a game where a true neutral ranger just had the opportunity to get an amazing weapon (a keen vorpal scimitar, evil in and of itself) and he did it by killing an unarmed, sleeping goblin, who he had no direct beef with, to aid a pack of worgs being forced to be mounts against their will by a shaman. He also, let the worgs loose on the village, and burned the rest of it, leaving no goblin alive. MWAHAHA! EVIL! (this'll definitely be a major issue for this guy. heh.) I didn't give him any sort of encouragement, but I definitely mentioned that he was not an evil character to him before hand, and I did tell him that there were women and children present. Oh, and this was a village that had just been attacked by another goblin tribe, leaving them decimated, and relatively defenseless.

it was his choice, but he's COMING OVER TO THE DARK SIDE.

I was playing on Neverwinter Nights the other day, and my character's alignment changed from Chaotic Neutral to Chaotic Evil. I was outraged. All he did was rob a couple of families!

Doursalmon, I just read your post. Veeeery interestink, Mr. Bond.

I DM a group with a ranger in it, and this ranger has goblins as his Favoured Enemy, since they killed his wife and son way back. Anyway, I had set up this adventure with loadsa goblins in it, and, naturally, he went about killin' them. Just when he'd finished cleaning out their burrows, he heard a cry. It was a baby goblin which had slept through the massacre, and now awoke to see the man who killed its parents and family standing over it, bow in hand. The baby goblin gurgled and blinked twice. It was not inherently evil, you see, it was practically a newborn (we call them whelps in our campaign) and thus, was born without concepts of good and evil. The ranger, who had hated goblins ever since they killed his wife and son, took pity on the newborn and decided it was not an evil creature, and took it upon himself to raise the orphaned creature as his own son. I naturally gave 'im extra XP for being a good guy, as well as getting me to NPC a goblin for longer than simply saying "Who you? Now you die!"

I tend not to create scenarios like that. Maybe my goblins are pod born, fully grown, or something.

Basically, I do it that way because I think the idea of killing goblins in a game of D&D is far more interesting than dinner table Oscar performances about the anguish that results from killing goblin babies. I'm not there to teach my players a lesson about killing. By the same token, my players are not more bloodthirsty than is required by the conventions of the game.

There is an interesting and funny discussion in Clerks, about the ethics of blowing up the independent contractors and contruction workers who were working on the Death Star 2 in "Return of the Jedi" when the Rebel Fleet attacked. If the premise was taken that seriously and realistically, then this was certainly a reasonable question, though it's hard to argue that it would have been a more exciting movie if these kinds of things were taken into account.

Yeah, I avoid that too. Not because I think it would detract from the fun, but probably because of my personal morals.

In real life, I would have a hard time killing someone, even if they were very evil. I'd want to find another way to imprison them, or to capture them without killing them.

One of the benefits of a fantasy game is that there are enemies in it which can be presumed to be truly evil, and truly deserving of their grisly fate at the edge of your sword. Orcs = completely evil. This is useful because now we don't have to fret about whether its ok to fight them. We can just have a fun time romping about combatting the forces of evil.

Basically, what I'm saying is, I'd have a hard time playing a game in which I killed people who might be innocents. Its largely the reason I abandoned vampire the masquerade so fast. Too many people in that game want to role play killing innocent people, and it makes me feel... queasy. Like I shouldn't be having fun.

Orcs don't exist in real life. They're automatically dehumanized. I don't have to feel bad because I enjoyed killing imaginary orcs. Likewise, fantasy bad guys are truly bad- they come pre dehumanized as well. Which is good in a fantasy game.

I don't want every battle to come with moral difficulties. I want to have fun.

I've never come across the 'goblin baby' problem. I've battle many-a-goblin troop. I've actually raided a few goblin camps, and almost died more than once. When it came to the women and children, well, they were considered non-combatants.

And should my GM get morally evil and decide to make one of the goblin-ettes attack me. I'll just have to make like a pimp and slap the gobbie-ho down...beeyatch.

I just started playing D&D again after 15 or so years. We haven't had to deal with the situation of detections and the like much, but it seems to me that magic defined by law/chaos or good/evil would only respond to a 'cosmic' source of the alignment energy. Only high-level divine characters dedicated to an aligned diety, extraplanar creatures, and the like would be affected. So an assassin wouldn't detect as evil, or be able to use evil-aligned items, unless he or she was a devotee of an evil god, had some demonic influence, or was truly epic in his or her crimes.

In this interpretation, I'd allow characters (and NPCs) to somehow know when they've crossed over from simply having a particular behavioral or moral code to being a living exemplar of that force in the world. Paladins and clerics of aligned gods would be this way from the start, while characters might never become that extreme. A LG cleric of a god of law would read as lawful, but normally not as good, because his or her connection to the divine is lawful. A NE druid would not detect as evil, since his or her connection to the divine is not evil (unless you're running a game where evil druids get their power from an evil source).

Orcs might be CE, but only their shamans or extreme non-clergy would detect as such.

As always, thanks to everyone for posting comments.

Marc: interesting suggestion. I'm still chewing it over.

Nephandus (post 1): it is a rant, after all. I recognize that the game can be played and thoroughly enjoyed as written. This article expresses my personal distaste for the alignment system, and tries to state the reasons for that distaste.

I just looked over the 3d Ed description of Detect Evil, and I still think it can be prone to abuse. Overwhelming signals, as written, will be rare (and often beyond the party's Encounter Level, unless I mistake).

Olly, Nephandus (post 2), Cadfan, MA:

It's ironic to me that I wrote this article because of issues raised in the "How Typical is Stereotypical" comments, and now the discussion here is going back to issues touched on there.

There is a playing style issue with respect to the "goblin baby" scenario. Personally, I enjoy situations like that. I don't like to reduce humanoid NPCs to cannon fodder; my longest-term fantasy setting treats humanoids as playable races of varying alignment, much as humans are.

If you enjoy slaughtering orcs and never having to regret it, I won't stand in your way. If you were to play in the above-mentioned setting, you'd fight orcs, just as you'd fight humans and elves. The difference would be that you wouldn't know the orcs were bad guys, necessarily, *just because they were orcs*. There would be something else to tip you off: they are wearing the livery of the cult of the evil god of love, they shout "kill the infidels" and charge to attack, and so on.

In the "How Typical is Stereotypical" thread, I expressed my opinion that there are numerous monsters available for those situations when the characters want to fight something that is thoroughly, thoroughly evil. I make use of these creatures often enough that the PCs are never confused about their role in the scheme of things.

The _Clerks_ Death Star issue is both humorous and pertinent to the discussion. I could go the "wanky sci-fi nerd" route and try to address it ("well, you see, there are no independent contractors in the Empire..."), but what I'd rather say is that the DM needs to maintain a proper sense of climax. You throw moral dilemmas at the players when it's time for thoughtful role-play, not when it's time for them to stand up and be counted among the heroes of the realm.

I tend to present such situations after the big fight against the bad guy, while loot is being apportioned and the characters are cleaning up the mess caused by the bad guy's fiendish plot: an orcish prisoner found in the bad guy's torture chamber sparked a heated debate among the players, who ultimately decided to let him go. It was a variation of the "frog prince" scenario, as he turned out to be a truly honorable individual who was able to help them far down the line. He also helped develop their place in the overall setting/plot, and provided material for diplomacy and discussion for months of real time. As I said, I get a kick out of stuff like that. If you don't, the tolkienish always-evil orc is just fine as a fantasy villain.

Yo Cocytus !

Your initial mail has so many points , some of which I agree with. Let me answer the main thrust of your argument, which I disagree with. Pay attention ! Master DM at work !

(1) My main point would be 'Chill baby!' Alignment is just meant to be a useful tool to help the player and DM agree on what is reasonable behaviour for a player or npc. Obviously, the real world is much more complicated and to deal with moral ambiguities you need an INTELLIGENT and SOPHISTICATED DM who can adjudicate Solomon-wise on a case by case basis! There is no possible HARD AND FAST RULE that you could devise to cover moral ambiguities or you would be a worthy successor to mahatma ghandi. In the absence of a hard and fast rule, the D&D alignment system is simple, easy to use, and adequate without being comprehensive.

(2) You say that the designers of D&D underestimate the importance of alignment in in the game. There are severe penalties for alignment change and and there are spells which work according to alignment.

To this I say... 'It depends how rigidly you play alignment'. I have generally played alignment fairly loosely. ie it applies most strongly to those character types that are strongly alignment based, Paladins, Monks, priests to a lesser extent. These guys will suffer most if they act out of alignment, but even there moral ambiguity exists and the DM can be flexible if he thinks it justified.

About spells... I have always played thayt alignment based spells only function on people and objects that are strongly alignment typed. In general this means people or objects of high power/level strongly tied to a particular alignment. For example, an Evil temple, or a paladin, or a neutral shrine. Most persons or objects will not register with or be affected by such spells.

(3) You say 'Alignments Aren't Tied to Specific Behaviors'. I say 'oh yes they are !' Just because a case is ambiguous or difficult, doesn't mean the DM cant reach a verdict. Where a case is debateable then the DM must use his concience as a guide. There is no substitute for a moral compass, as they say in the film Jose Wells ' no signed paper can hold the iron, it must come from men '.

(4) You say 'Ambiguity Causes Confusion and Dissent'. I say 'so what' . Styles will always differ. There is no cure for this ! Its up to the DM to adjudicate and decide what alignments mean in his/her cvampaign.

(5) You say 'When Detected Alignment Replaces Moral Choice' . I say 'Only if your DM is a dingbat !' Proof of character is not justification for any action. The guy needs to be proven guilty of some act. Detect evil cannot even detect 'INTENTION' never mind 'ACTION'. It gives only an indication of character. If your DM can't work that one out then youre in the deep with no paddle.

Now, I know youre a sensible fellow, because you give your own reasonable alternatives at the end of your post, but what I say is that any more prescriptive alignment system that you might devise will inevitably be more time consuming to set up and maintain. The great strength of the D&D system is that it gives a simple shorthand indicator of behaviour, and relies on the DM to sort interpret and adjudicate. I really can't think of a better way.

Thanks, Mohammed. My reply:

1) When people can't agree, it isn't a very useful tool.

2 & 3) These speak to #4. If it varies from DM to DM, play will be inconsistent. It's not inconsistent with respect to attacks of opportunity; why should it be so with respect to alignment?

4) So what? When people at the table can't agree, it's not much fun. My personal experiences, some of which I reported in the article, have been that this is a divisive issue. When people argue back and forth about alignment archetypes that really ought to be straightforward, as on the "Alignment Refinement" thread, I'm not inclined to believe that this is a small matter.

5) Agreement, but this problem is one that I rarely face directly; it's more often something I hear other gamers complain about. My point is that the system seems to permit it, and that other DMs seem to have been frustrated by it.

Inevitably more time consuming to set up and maintain? Nay, sir. As I say, I've played in other systems where this particular problem never becomes an issue. For the moment, my personal solution has been choice 1: choose a different system. A lot of my long-term players are disappointed, but I'm fed up with so many aspects of the D&D system right now that I'm ready for a radical change. Thank you, Steve Jackson! I am saved!

There is a better way, Mohammed. For me, if not for you.


Let me analyse your ruling that the ranger committed evil acts and was in for an align change:

(1) gets evil sword by killing goblin - marginally evil action, mitigated if you believe all goblins evil.
(2) Aiding worgs against shaman - neutral action.
(3) Let worgs loose in village, killed all goblns including women and children - evil action, mitigated if you believe all goblins. are evil.

So in the end it comes down to 'does the ranger think all goblins are evil' If he does then his decisions are justifiable despite strong elements of self interest. And remember he is neutral not good. I would probably rule harder against a good character.

So, in short, I only agree with your ruling if, in your campaign, goblins are not irredeemably evil.


Ok I hear you view, but I still think that the system you described PALLADIUM is more complex by the very fact of having a list, and also is just as full of discrepancies. For example I disagree immediately with bits of that list. I know plenty of principled people who are not good at working in a group, who would attack an unarmed foe if that foe was guilty of some crime, who would readily defy authority if they thought a law unjust. They would do these things as a matter of principle.

My view is that morality is all a matter of opinion and in the end it will come down to the DMs ruling. There will always be disagreements because the ambiguities are REAL and not due to the system used to describe them. In that circumstance, I go for a simple system. If you find the Palladium system simple to manage and useful, then thats great also. It might even be better.

Mo the sage =)

Mohammed -

The term 'principled' with respect to that particular alignment is just a name. There are other alignments in the system that fit other behaviors. The types of people you describe would be called 'scrupulous' in Palladium - they have principles, but they are also committed to a personal sense of honor.

And disagreeing with the rules is one thing - not being able to agree on what they say is another. Maybe not all of my players agreed with Palladium's rules of alignment, but no one ever argued that a character of Principled alignment could engage in torture. It's right there in the rules: Principled characters do not torture people.

In D&D, it's not that simple. The rules don't say anything about torture at all. When I play D&D, people frequently either argue about alignment, ask for DM clarification, or seem confused. When I play Palladium, none of those things happens. That's why I say it's a better system - in that respect alone, perhaps, but still better.

My grain of salt folks.

The Books of Vile Darkness and Exalted Deeds have clarified alignments somewhat. Actually, they've gone along the lines I was following but now I can slap the books in the face of rule lawyers to shut em up. There are paragraphs about torture, executions, etc.

Unlike Nephandus, I like throwing a monkey wrench in the players' holy crusades. I find it personnaly unhealthy to entertain fantasies about comiting genocides for the people who play the game and for the image of the hobby in general.

Purging non-intelligent monsters, undead, demons from the face of the realm I can deal with. Purging goblins or drow who are free willed creatures, I will not allow or participate in, unless I play in an evil campaign.

Book of exalted deeds has a few paragraphs about redeeming the wicked (just as there is a part on temptation in vile darkness). I find these elements to be excellent storytelling tools, I've often tried to roleplay them, now I have rules that allow me to do it as a GM and as a player.

The reason why alignment hasn't been too refined in D&D is because most GM's are lazy bums who play rpg's like it was Diablo. I mean I've seen Jedi fight lesser foes without offering the chance of surrender, paladins willing to burn down whole forests to kill goblins and lawfull clerics not administering the last rites to clerics of the same congregation (all that without any reaction from the GM).

What can I say. They are the same people who never even try to charge PC's with murder in modern RPG's.

And I beg to differ about alignment detection, an assassin registers as evil (since it is a pre-requisite of the class). So would a Red Wizard, a Thayan Knight, etc. Just as a purple dragon would and a monk would radiate law and a harper would for chaos and goodness.

I read some good points up there, and then there are some points that are...well...not pointy. So, alignment works with the game if it works with the players, right?

A group of pro-alignment players? Great, use alignments.

A group of anti-alignment players? Super, toss the alignments.

A mixed group of players? Just peachy, keep alignments AND add a new one called "non-denominational" ...or somehting like that.

Of course there will be some situations where the players and GM will need to apply the "common sense" skill...plus bonuses.

I've run into these issues myself, and even though we simply played out the game (the issues weren't severe) I've thought about alignment for a while. In Star Wars, alignment (as a function of dark side points) is very important. A fair amount of space in the rulebook is dedicated to exactly what constitutes a dark side act.

In D&D, though, you're right about alignment being very much a game mechanic. I've considered simply dropping the "evil creature" lines from the detect evil spell. In other words, you could detect clerics of evil gods, evil outsiders, undead, and the like, but not just a wicked brigand or a grouchy shopkeeper. Evil gods ARE pretty well defined, after all... moral ambiguity seems to be the domain of mortals.

The problem is complicated by the fact that, since it IS a game, players are more likely to act in bizarre and immoral ways. Chopping peoples' heads off in response to insults is typically not considered couth in reality, but I've seen it happen and the player attempt to justify it. (Given, said player is one that we all agree is, in reality, Chaotic Evil--or would be if he could get away with it.)

Speaking of getting away with things, since the players don't feel a sense of moral responsibility in game, they also tend to feel that they can't be stopped. After all, a fair fight would require a team of four equally powerful foes, with about equal losses expected on each side. So your group of 10th level wizards and fighters don't have much to keep them from robbing the town blind and riding away; most places don't have four 10th level sheriffs sitting around. Given, the DM can work things out (say, a crack squad of trackers sent by the local potentate) but the sense that the party is a law unto itself magnifies the moral issues greatly!

Perhaps your next rant could focus on the use of XP in magic item creation. I always hated that... particularly since the fighters of the party don't have an equivalent XP sink (except maybe getting chewed on by a red wyrm). I can understand for permanent items like swords, but a simple spell storage device like a potion or wand seems too expensive in terms of personal power to be worth it! (Yeah, "power components" are one way to offset that, but still...)

Interesting comments all around, but I suspect that I oversimplified my position when I said I rarely bring up the "goblin babies" scenario. This doesn't mean my games are without moral questions or conundrums. Nor does it mean, Sam, that my characters go on genocidal rampages - out to wipe out a race from the earth.

I simply arrange it so that when the characters encounter such beings, that these beings are up to no good. I would never deign to waste my player's time by indulging a story where they meet a tribe of goblins that has turned to agrarian communism, growing granola and fashioning Birkenstocks for orphans. No, in my games, if they meet goblins, chances are the goblins are up to something interesting in which the players may wish to intervene. I'm not much for "static worlds" where players just venture around looking for stuff to kill. We play stories - with a beginning, middle, and end.

As for players that start chopping heads randomly and looting townspeople, that's the point where I stop the game and we have a chat about what we want out of our game experience. The scenarios I design, use, or adapt, are intended as stories of heroic fantasy. If the players are not going to act as heroes - either through indifference or through active sabotage of the setting and spotlight hogging in this way, then they can play their own game. It's much, much harder to compose credible "evil" motivations and rewards than it is to compose the good motivations. The story logic gets all screwed up when players start behaving like psychopaths. So, one of my groundrules in agreeing to DM is - no evil or crazy PC's.

Excellent ground rules Neph.

Mind you I had no gripe against what you were saying per say, I was just pointing out that... Olly's example (I think) was a good one of the kind of heroïc dilema which I find nice to throw at the PC's. Kinda like the one Peter Parker faces in the Spiderman movie: Mary Jane vs the (wtf is a telepheric in english? is it Wire car?). It is these moments that define the heroes and the vilains of the collective hallucinations we call RPG's.

By the way, I'm not saying all my goblinoids are freespirited peace loving vegetarians, I'm just saying that they are usually just pawns in someone else's scheme and make excellent "usual suspects".

Very nicely done Cocytus.

Thanks, Sam! We may not all agree, but at least we have something to talk about, eh?

The English word is "tram", I think, but can sometimes be called a "cable car". Somebody feel free to jump in and correct me if I'm wrong or omitting a synonym.=

I'd like to throw a question out there-

If you interpret detect evil as I do, you interpret it such that one simply CANNOT get an evil aura of a certain strength of higher without doing terrible, terrible things. Why is it inherently wrong to judge someone or something with such an aura guilty without immediate provable cause?

The rule that you cannot punish until proven guilty of a specific crime is intrinsic to OUR world. Arguably, we have it because you can't just use an evil detector to magically determine whether someone needs to be put in prison. Given that in D&D you actually CAN do this, why would the moral weight of "innocent until proven guilty of a specific crime" still exist? Wouldn't it be replaced with "innocent until proven guilty of having committed some sort of truly evil act, although we can't tell for sure what it was?"

I mean, sure, Joe Schmo the greedy lecherous neighbor might have a faint evil aura. But if you want to rachet that aura up to strong, you have to be at least as evil as a Hezrou, and for an overwhelming evil aura, a Balor.

If I meet someone as evil as a Balor, the axe is coming out. :-)

But I thought I'd throw that moral quandary out for you all- are you sure you aren't transferring a moral rule that was created for specific reasons into a situation where those specific reasons do not exist? Or are you somehow claiming that the rule itself is intrinsically good? If so, why?

Actually, I messed up which demons get which auras. But I think you guys get my point.

Mo (and all who say beings are unequivically evil),

while the idea that there is such thing as true, unequivical evil in a D&D campaign, and all beings of a certain race could be killed on sight without remorse, is a certainly viable campaign choice, and makes for good hack n' slash gameplay (which, when I was primarily a PC I enjoyed as well) the moral implications of a game can really inspire some unique responses from PC's, as well as some unique opportunities for all kinds of plot devices, including elements such as faction or religious devotion. It really offers an opportunity for character development, and allows for deeper game play. and it's easy. and it's more fun when PC's die if the players feel an emotional connection to them. MWAHAHA!

Cadfan said:

"If you interpret detect evil as I do, you interpret it such that one simply CANNOT get an evil aura of a certain strength of higher without doing terrible, terrible things."

Well, that's true enough - the key phrase being "a certain strength or higher". Any creature of evil alignment will register as evil when the spell is cast, but the strength of the aura depends on the type and HD of the creature in question (see PHB:192-193 in 3d Ed, PHB:218-219 in 3.5). By this standard, however, the vast majority of evil, non-clerical mortals will register as "Dim" (in 3d Ed) or "faint" (in 3.5). The spell descriptions do not provide a case where evil, non-clerical mortals could register as evil as, say, a Balor. But even assuming your interpretation is a good one, which I am happy to do for the sake of argument, the vast majority of evil humans will *still* register near the low end of the evil scale. There's no way to distinguish between petty evil and not-so-petty evil, as far as most mortals are concerned.

Cadfan continued:

"Why is it inherently wrong to judge someone or something with such an aura guilty without immediate provable cause?"

It's not wrong to judge them, but it may be wrong to execute them. It depends strongly on the setting. If the paladin in question is the only mortal claiming authority for hundreds of miles around, then he's probably justified in acting as judge, jury, and executioner if he wants to. But in the presence of any existing authority, he must defer to that authority unless it is so monstrously unjust that his desire for the preservation of good overwhelms his respect for law.

"The rule that you cannot punish until proven guilty of a specific crime is intrinsic to OUR world...why would the moral weight of 'innocent until proven guilty of a specific crime' still exist? Wouldn't it be replaced with 'innocent until proven guilty of having committed some sort of truly evil act, although we can't tell for sure what it was?'"

I understand your point, but I never meant to be talking about due process. What I was talking about was the dispensation of justice. In most medieval and pre-medieval societies, the right to dispense justice was just as jealously guarded as it is today. People who attempt to dispense justice without the authority to do so are vigilantes, and in most law-abiding societies, vigilantes are outlaws. My interpretation of the Lawful Good alignment says to me that paladins cannot become outlaws under any but the direst of circumstances, and may not declare open rebellion against any but the most unjust of tyrannies. If you are a paladin in a foreign city, which adventurers often are, then the proper thing to do upon detecting evil in a certain person is to inform the proper authorities, be it the City Watch, the Palace Guard, Burne's Badgers, or whomever.

I do like your thinking, in that I think the implications of the existence of a spell such as Detect Evil are poorly considered in most fantasy settings. Why don't all law enforcement agencies employ paladins, or clerics at the very least? It's a question worth pondering...and the protests of J.W. Howard notwithstanding, I think a fantasy world constructed from first principles, with careful thought to the implications of all the magical 'technology' available, would be an interesting setting indeed.

"If I meet someone as evil as a Balor, the axe is coming out. :-)"

Most of the time, I'd say: good call. But what if the person in question has a position of legitimate authority? If you're a paladin, you can't just murder him on the spot...that would be unlawful, as I said. Not necessarily immoral, but unlawful.

Cadfan said:

"...are you sure you aren't transferring a moral rule that was created for specific reasons into a situation where those specific reasons do not exist?"

Pretty sure. Remember that morals have two axes in D&D, not just one. ;)

I distinctly recall an incident where I joined a party consisting of a Lawful Good, Neutral Good, Chaotic Good and Chaotic Neutral characters. I was a Neutral Evil cleric. Some kobolds attacked and as I finished slaying them, I sacrificed the bodies and muttered an oath to my deity in infernal. The neutral good ranger understood infernal(even though it was quite out of character for him to) and translated for the party. The group, then, decided that the only viable solution was to draw their weapons and kill me. I stated that I had done nothing wrong, and they followed up by saying that the worship of an evil deity alone gives them the right to kill me.

Alas, it was my first and last session with that group and involved a very long game where I kept trying everything I could to avoid them, yet the Ranger was metagaming solutions to all of my attempts to thwart his tracking. GOOD alignment indeed...

In my own games, alignment is there, but it's not really enforced at all unless things get ridiculous. (No paladins going on rampant killing sprees though once the group decided to kill some unarmed kobolds back in 1st edition and the paladin shouted "No! Spare the innocent ratmen!")

My own gaming group can't explain alignment to anyone, yet they seem to have a good grasp of it. The Neutral Good guys are pretty much devoted to good and are neither as anti-authority as a Chaotic or as strictly law abiding as a Lawful person. Most of my players, though, prefer to play Chaotic Good and Chaotic Neutrals, although, there are a few paladins thrown in there who always stick out like sore thumbs trying to convince a party that the laws exist for a reason.

Personally, I think one of my players who was playing a True Neutral druid when informed of a tragic death can sum up his alignment best:
His response was "People die all the time."

Is it evil to kill? Is it evil to kill evil? Is it evil to kill in self-defense, or to defend another? Is it evil to kill someone who wishes to die? Which is more evil: to kill someone, or to imprison them forever? These (and countless others) aren't just questions in a game; they're questions in real life that no one in human history has been able to answer to everyone's satisfaction.

The problem with alignment, then, is essentially this: No one knows what "good" and "evil" are. This confusion is compounded by the addition of neutrality; how good does "good" have to be to really qualify as "good", and not merely the good side of "neutral"? How evil can a "neutral" character be without violating his alignment? For instance, it's easy to say that someone who goes around boiling live babies is evil, but is it "evil" to steal candy from them? Or does simple candy theft pale to neutrality next to senseless torture and murder?

No one knows, you see. And even if someone thought they did, someone else might disagree. And if one of those people is a DM, and another is a player, and they're fighting over whether a PC should suffer from alignment-based penalties or magical effects, chances are the game's just been ruined. Why? Because in a very real sense, the rules are impossible to understand.

There are workarounds, of course. One is to run a morally unambiguous game where the good guys are always obviously good (and dumb, in the Spaceballs sense), the bad guys are unquestionably (and probably unredeemably) bad, good guys can vanquish evil without ethical dilemmas, and so forth. There's really nothing wrong with this approach except that it eliminates some opportunity for roleplaying, and could become trite very quickly.

The other is to all but eliminate alignment, as has been suggested here; assume that most people/things in the game world are simply too morally insignificant to be considered good/evil/chaotic/whatever for the purposes of game mechanics (and where the mechanics require a character to be a certain alignment, such as to cast a spell or use an item, remove that requirement, or interpret it as loosely as possible). The end result is that you have a game where a neutral evil assassin, no matter how despicable, would be unaffected by a "Smite Evil"-type effect, whereas a neutral evil demon, being a creature that isn't merely evil in thought and deed, but is an inherently evil being, would be affected; likewise, the paladin should be able to use a Holy Avenger as long as he's generally a decent, honest guy, instead of having to agonize over what the true nature of goodness is lest he stray from it. The problem here is that the DM needs to make sure that players know that alignment is being treated this way, including the changes to game mechanics where applicable, to avoid future arguments and misunderstandings; also, one might find themself wondering what purpose there is to having explicit alignments at all, if they rarely have any effect on the game...

I have to admit, I laughed when Cocytus said "Thank you, Steve Jackson!" I too fled to GURPS when I couldn't stand D&D's quirks anymore, and while that system is not without its flaws, it certainly was a refreshing change. ;)

To go back to Sam and Nephandus goblin baby bit, (because I belong there...) most of the time, in my campaign, goblins ARE up to no good. They're backstabbing thieves and murderers, who poison drinking water, murder infants and mutilate the beautiful. But they only get that way from how they're brought up, in a bullying, scheming, almost Byzantinial society, where the strong enslave the weak, but are constantly watchful for challengers. A goblin whelp, however, is not evil, because it has not been educated that way yet. The goblin whelp considered the ranger that raised it to be it's 'dad' and had the same alignment as him, from how he'd raised it.

You've probably guessed I'm a nurture over nature kinda guy.

::grabs popcorn and watches the debate with morbid interest::

You guys are like George W and Al Gore. All rabidly defending your positions while making little stabs at the other person.

So is there, like, gonna be bloodshed or what?

::leans closer to witness all the gory details::

Hah Eater !

I am not like Bush or Gore. I have no position to defend. I seek the truth. At least thats what I tell my therapist.

Anyway to get back to Cocytus' last point to me. I quote:
'And disagreeing with the rules is one thing - not being able to agree on what they say is another. Maybe not all of my players agreed with Palladium's rules of alignment, but no one ever argued that a character of Principled alignment could engage in torture. It's right there in the rules: Principled characters do not torture people.'

I dislike this system very much. It is the antithesis of my playing style. It is exactly what D&D tries to avoid, that is to say, a straitjacket tightly constricting player action. I understand that you get certainty and agreement by using this method, but you also get rid of moral choice, and that is exactly what I value.

Think of the great characters in fiction. Many of them are not capable of being constrained by a simple list. Elric, abeing dedicated to worshipping evil yet striving for good. Conan, a savage killer a mercenary taking part in wars where many innocents die, yet capable of risking his life to save a stranger. These are extreme cases, but on a lesser level each character has to decide whether or not an action is within their alignment. If you take away the ambiguity, then you take away the very free will that makes roleplaying fun.

I suppose that the core of my method is that the D&D world should be a mirror of the real world. The moral dilemmas we face here should have their counterparts in the fantasy world. This makes the world truly interesting rather than a cardboard cutout.

sam from quebec says

"And I beg to differ about alignment detection, an assassin registers as evil (since it is a pre-requisite of the class). "

In my game, there's evil and there's Evil. Some assassins might become so extreme as to become Evil, but for the most part, they're just evil. (Or maybe not even evil. Robin Hobbs' "Assassin" trilogy paints an intriguing picture of a hero who's an assassin in service to a king. He has an ugly job, but like any soldier, he works for he percieves to be the greater good.)

Mo, if they're isn't bloodshed I'm in the wrong place!

I agree with Sam. I mean, if a Fighter kills a group of people that doesn't make him evil. But an assassin stabs someone and there's suposedly no other alignment for him than Chaotic Good.

Chaotic Evil I mean

Not neccesarily, Chief. An assassin can be of any evil alignment. And technically, I see them as being more of a lawful evil.

Mohammed, in all fairness you're reacting to the most constrained, most goody-two-shoes alignment Palladium uses. Conan and Elric could probably be described in terms of the Palladium Selfish alignments (Palladium uses Selfish instead of Neutral).

I only included the description of Principled because it's roughly analogous to Lawful Good, and because the issue of paladins is never far from any discussion about alignment and its constraints.

Before you go calling the Palladium system 'a straitjacket tightly constricting player action,' I do wish you'd take the trouble to learn more about it. You never know...you might like it.

I don't see how listing alignment guidelines eliminates moral choice. You've still got the choice to act against your alignment; it's just that if you do it enough, you're going to change alignment and should be prepared to accept whatever consequence results from that change. Only in Palladium, you actually *know* what your alignment guidelines are, and as a player you actually have a chance of controlling that change. How odd!

*Any* fictional world is going to mirror the real world, however dimly, and I'd say that the D&D reflection is dimmer than most. If D&D is trying to avoid a straitjacket, it has failed (IMO, of course) by including alignment-specific penalties and spell powers. Worse, as I said before, it gives us nothing in return.

Palladium's Principled alignment only codifies things I expect from Lawful Good characters anyway, and gives players specific examples as a basis for roleplay rather than using nebulous phrases such as "fights evil without mercy" (whatever that is supposed to mean). If your paladin engages in torture in one of my D&D campaigns for any reason, I'll strip his paladin status in the same instant that I change his alignment to Lawful Neutral. but I'll warn you before it happens: are you *sure* you want to do this?

Maybe you're right: maybe people don't want an alignment system that is clear, consistent, and above all playable. But then there were people that claimed to like the arcane mechanics of AD&D, and since 3d Ed came out they are fewer and farther between. I don't buy it. Ambiguous is frustrating. Inconsistent is annoying. Understated in importance is just plain bad design.

Heres a mail in which I agree entirely with Cocytus In his reply to Cadfan:

Cadfan said:

"...are you sure you aren't transferring a moral rule that was created for specific reasons into a situation where those specific reasons do not exist?"

Cocytus said:

'Pretty sure. Remember that morals have two axes in D&D, not just one. ;)'

Mo says:

In general I really like Cadfans questions and Cocytus' replies. These guys are really thinking about the effects of magic on the Fantasy world.

What I believe is , spells will not get rid of moral dilemmas entirely, and if they do then you should adjust spell effects so that this doesn't happen. However, Cadfan is correct that spells will have some effect. However this is no different than developing technology in the real world. For example DNA testing now makes possible identifying a criminal with some certainty, but it still needs rigorous procedures to comply with the basic requirements of evidence and fairness. This is a vast field, and I can only give a few examples to show you how I would view various cases:

(1) I believe that the important thing is still ACTION. It is unfair to prosecute someone unless they have done something. If you start punishing for ATTITUDE then you lay wide open the road to judicial abuse. A ruler might for example decide that any Chaotic element should be put in jail as potential troublemakers for example. Of course this could happen . I just think its an abuse.

(2) spells like Detect Truth will certainly affect judicial procedures if a high enough priest is available. Still prone to abuse unless proper procedures set in place.

(3) killing goblin women & children. Very likely legal because they are probably not protected by human law. I would say an evil action, but may still be justifiable on security or racial survival grounds.

Anyway, to answer Cadfans question directly, I don't think moral rules will or should vary greatly because of changes caused by spell effects. You should still be judged by what you have DONE, not by your ALIGNMENT. There is a grey area where you might be able to divine INTENTIONS, but I like grey areas.

That's where you're wrong, buddy! In my campaign world, one can be done for killing goblin women and children, because they are sentient life, capable of independant thought, possessing the ability to speak. This makes it immoral to kill them, without good reason.


I would agree Its immoral. However that is not the same as illegal. And highly moral guys like Olly & Mo are not in the majority in medieval fantasy settings.

I doubt if, in many lands in my campaign, anyone would blink an eye at killing goblin kids. This is not because it isn't a horrible action. I agree it is vile, but its just that I believe that in primitive and violent societies, most people will end up being bigoted racists, and their rulers will probably be the same.

One final point Olly, there are grey areas to do with survival and security. Many immoral actions may be justifiable on grounds of self defence.

Of course the clever politician will always couch his immoral actions in terms of self defence. For examlpe:

(1) Hitler claimed he invaded weak poland in self defence because they fired over the border first. yeah right !

(2) Bush and Blair actually claimed that IRAQ ravaged by 20+ years of sanctions and under continuous surveillance, was actually some kind of threat to the greatest military power the world has ever known ( sorry if any of you guys believe this, I'm not trying to be controversial ).

Anyway, I take these two examples as obvious lies, but there are occasions of genuine threat when very brutal action becomes justifiable in terms of self defence.

Realistic Mo

I tend to take a practical approach to gaming - the minimum effort for the greatest gain. It comes down to the game mechanics in D&D sabotaging the story mechanics. For this reason, I'm not too keen on divination spellcasters in my games, though I've stopped just short of forbidding them.

In the Detect Evil case, it isn't too hard to go by the book to limit their practical use. Detecting an "evil presence" within an area (but not knowing strength or position) etc, doesn't really give players that much info. The range and area of effect isn't that huge either, and the "concentrate" thingy limits the practical use. It isn't a very good truth serum, nor is it especially good radar.

As for what you DO to evil entities, that's largely a function of setting and style. Does your Paladin execute an evil person on the spot? Not in my game.

Remember, a Paladin is Lawful as well as Good. Executions of this sort require a crime, in addition to "evil motivation". And many towns may be under rule of law themselves. You can't just go around killing people - at least in my game. Unless, of course - something is tainted with the extraplanar evil - demons and such.

It's also not so easy for most characters to do this surrepticiously. Verbal and Somatic components or Divine Focus. Let your players know beforehand what the average reaction would be if someone started heating up their holy symbol and chanting in the middle of a tavern, or in a negotiation. What's the etiquette?

Methinks in a world where someone could just as easily fling a fireball as cast a detection, that it's likely this would get a chilly reaction.

Note - none of this over-rules the basic abilities or arranges the scenario so that they are moot. It's not about denying players the benefit of their abilities. Choices and consequences is the name of the game. for the players, is the cost they know they are going to pay, worth the benefit they might get from casting.

Sorry Joe but an assassin (the prestige class, not any common hired killer) is Evil, period.

Second, an assassin or what ever evil character registers on a detect evil (check it PHB 3.5 under "detect evil").

Now even if police forces and tribunals have detection spells, there are ways in which a person can radiate an alignment but not be so.

Spells can lead you to misread the aura, posession, some curses, magic items have their own alignment at times, etc.

In AD&D I once created a manacratic state where the systematic application of magic was the solution to everything. It was about as advanced as the most advanced countries of our time (if not more).
Still, since nobody is uncorruptible detection of lie or evil could not be used alone in a court of law. Also they had their own version of the death penalty for evil people: the personality inversion (helmet of opposite alignment). So there was no way for them to accept the cold blooded execution of any mortal material plane sentient. Since even if proven guilty of the worst attrocities, the criminal could be cured of insanity, changed alignment and made to repay his debt to society.

But that is a very High Magic setting.

Look at it like the Jedi in Star Wars, while they can read intents and detect the dark side, they are not jury, judge and executionner because:
1 - there are too few of them.
2 - it would lead the rest of the population to resent and hate them for holding power over them. A power they themselves can never have. Hey in the real world, many resent lawyers, judges and officers of the law. And it is withing most people's capacities to hold such a position.

So even if there are clerics and paladins in most city watches, they don't can't apply the law all by themselves and have to follow some if not all mundane rules of conduct.

Sam said: "So even if there are clerics and paladins in most city watches, they don't can't apply the law all by themselves and have to follow some if not all mundane rules of conduct."

Which brings us back to the stigma against casting magic in public. At least 90% of the population doesn't have Spellcraft skill, so they would assume the worst about the caster. To paraphrase "Sir Apropos of Nothing": "Most barkeeps don't cater to people that can make you forget they didn't pay."


There's a videogame out there called "Tenchu." Play it...play all three...well, maybe just play the first and the third. Not ALL assassins are evil. Historically, many ninja clans in feudal Japan had a code of honor more strict than that of the noble Samurai.

Nephandus said:

"It's also not so easy for most characters to do this surrepticiously. Verbal and Somatic components or Divine Focus. Let your players know beforehand what the average reaction would be if someone started heating up their holy symbol and chanting in the middle of a tavern, or in a negotiation. What's the etiquette?

Methinks in a world where someone could just as easily fling a fireball as cast a detection, that it's likely this would get a chilly reaction."

Ashaqua added:

"Which brings us back to the stigma against casting magic in public. At least 90% of the population doesn't have Spellcraft skill, so they would assume the worst about the caster."

I think these are important points. When Cadfan mentioned (on the Alignment Refinement thread) that certain low-level Divination spells were ruining his mystery-investigation scenarios, in some cases I had to wonder: why should the baron (in cadfan's scenario 2, see that thread) tolerate some uppity, lower-status-than-the-baron cleric coming into his courtroom and casting spells? It's interpretable as a hostile action: at the very least, I think the guards would be called to haul the presumptuous little bastard away. Now, if the baron gave his word that he would submit to a Zone of Truth spell cast in front of his peers, that would be a different story - but he wouldn't do that unless he had a very compelling reason to do so.

Weighing in on the assassin issue:

One can have a code of honor and still be evil. This is why I love the Lawful Evil alignment for villains: honorable but ruthless characters make great foils for heroes.

I think the ruthlessness implicit in the concept of the professional killer makes the designers of D&D - and most DMs - want to restrict the Assassin to an evil class. Personally, I could see Neutral or Chaotic Neutral characters being assassins, but that's something that would be interpreted very differently by other DMs. What little the PHB says on the subject of evil - that evil characters are distinguished from neutral ones by their *ruthlessness* - makes me think that in 3d ed, there is less conceptual wiggle room for neutral assassins.

For all you doubting Mohammeds out there (just teasing, Mo), Palladium has a great, Lawful-Evil-like alignment called Aberrant. The Aberrant character follows a strict code of honor: just because his ethics happen to fall outside the boundaries of normal society's doesn't mean he doesn't have ethics. He may torture you and oppress your family with heavy "protection money" demands, but he won't harm your children, and he'll keep his word of honor if he gives it.

Dammit - I keep writing Ashagua's handle 'Ashaqua'. Sorry about that.

AMEN to Aberrant!!

That's my favorite alignment. I just wish the Palladium game systems weren't so DAMN COMPLICATED! However, whilst they sit upon my shelf, they make for great source books!

I have developed a point system to track the character's alignment. Using one number for their good/evil tendencies and another number for their lawful/chaotic tendencies. They earn or lose points based on their actions. So one person may be good, while another may be very good, etc. This also allows for gradations of good and evil. So one person may be a little bit evil, while another may be hell on wheels. It also shows characters developing over time towards either good or bad in the long run, so that all actions have an impact on whether someone is good or bad.

Cocytus, a man after my own heart. You can't beat a good bit of lawful evil now and again!

Oh, and on the subject of killing goblin whelps, Mo, I have to agree in part with you. I think a vast majority of people in fantasy worlds are racist one way or another. Most predominantly in traditionally 'evil' races like orcs and goblins who loathe elves and dwarves. Dwarves are predjudiced against elves, and likewise, elves are predjudiced against dwarves.

Even Elrond was a bigot, if you believe the movies, what with him being distrustful of the world of men... although it didn't happen in the books... but I like the movie Elrond better... Hugo Weaving kicks large portions of ass with great severity.

AAAH! we achieve agreement !

I agree with all last 10 posts from:
On December 9, 2003 01:02 PM, Nephandus said:

On December 10, 2003 04:43 AM, Olly said:

Except the bit of
On December 9, 2003 02:59 PM, sam from quebec said:

where sam insists Assassins are Evil period. because it says so (check it PHB 3.5 under "detect evil").

My reply to Sam is that experienced DMs have their own views on such matters, and rules are not sancrosanct. Much depends on the logic of your campaign. If, as a DM you wish to change the effects of the Detect Evil spell or rule that an assassin is 'Aberrant' rather than Evil, then its your priviledge to do so.
As I've stated before, its a well used convention (though not part of the rules) that Detect Evil only shows up strong high level or pure evil. An assassin may for example be in other ways a decent man 'see the film "the unforgiven" '.

Hmmm.... how to explain to my wife that when I said her mother was Evil .... I really meant Aberrant.

maybe psychotic-evil, eh?

My ex-girlfriend was lawful evil. She was fine to start off with, lovely, very sweet, but then, she stabs me in the back and goes off with my best friend, ruining two relationships for the price of one. The witch.

Needless to say, I stoned her to death, and burnt her body.

Mo, if you read Terry Pratchett's Discworld books they have an Assassin's Guild. These Assassins are not simply hired thugs who kill people in the street for a handful of gold. With these guys it's a lapful or nothing. The Assassin's Guild values human life immensely and thus, charges large amounts to take it away. Also, Assassins in Discworld are always noble, well-educated gentlemen and women, who never stoop to gunning down a victim in the street, and try not to kill guards, servants and witnesses, wherever possible.

Sure it's because they are noble...

No man! It's because the less people you kill, the less reprisal and the simplest the job is. Just as in the real world the mob tries to make clean kills, so as not to anger the populace and put political pressue on governments who would adopt anti mob laws.

It's practicality not honour.

Mind you, I could see a non evil assassin (but you'd have to rewrite 2 prerequisites for the class: 1 - any evil alignment. 2 - Must kill someone as an initiation rite.)

But I'm talking Core D&D here. Now if you start modifying classes, spells, etc. Well we're not really talking D&D anymore are we, we're talking Mo's D&D, Sam's D&D, etc.

It is not necessarily lack of experience that prompts a DM to follow the rules or not. I follow most of them because I find them convenient. But, for alignment definition I use Monty Cook's scale of alignments from Unhallowed Might and I also use the language rules from Kingdom of Kalamar. I've used a home made rule for character creation based on the building cost from the DMG. I've tailored some prestige classes so they fit my campaign (more in their backgrounds than the actual rules that apply to them).

Shaping a system to your hand is much like the art of growing Bonzaï. It requires patience to make the little changes over a long period of time.

Sam, you need to read Discworld, medically.

In Discworld, by Terry Pratchett, all of what I have just said is true.

If you argue with me about it, I will win. End of story.

I am not saying that Pratchett didn't imagine it like that. I'm just saying that if one sells one's service as a hired assassin, one's morality and honour is already questionnable.

Just as spanish inquisitors were just butchers who did the Vatican's dirty work.

Come on assassins being good? It might work if you read it, some members of the guild might actually believe it, but the leaders have to be very deluded if they believe themselves to be good.

Of course if Pratchet's assassins make sure to kill only vile creatures, don't do it for the money or the power and allow the victim to die with honour or plead his/her case and ...

But they are definitely not usual assassins. Assassins kill for money, power or fun (not to be confused with the original Hashashin who were nothing more than muslim black ops of the crusades and not really hired killers per say (even if they were "paid" with hashish)).

Good assassins in deed, pff.

What next: kind slavelords, enlightened dictators and morally conscious mass murderers.

On another matter prejudice doesn't mean evil. Alignment will influence how your prejudice manifests though.

I think some of the tension is coming from the difference between assassins as a prestige class template of rules and abilities, and assassins as a profession.

A prestige class is basically a set of rules and abilities for a character. The fluff that goes with it is how the game encourages those rules and abilities to be incorporated into a campaign. I think problems are created when the rules lay down the law, and make the fluff part of the rules. For example, the assassin prestige class requires you to kill a person for no reason. That's pretty evil, and suggests that only an evil character should be an assassin. But what about the player who wants to use the assassin rules, but doesn't want to be evil, and doesn't want to kill random people for no reason? The game doesn't allow for that, unless the DM edits the rule.

Personally, I think the game *usually* does a good job with this. For example, I think the assassin prestige class is designed in terms of rules so that a non evil player simply wouldn't get much out of it, nor would they make much sense pursuing it. The rules all deal with how to kill people with poison, etc, silenly. That's usually not a good thing to be doing, and I think most would-be good assassins might be better of just being rogues. But there are a few other prestige classes where I would easily edit the prereqs to get rid of flavor based requirements. Drunken Master, for example, requires you to survive a night of revelling with other drunken masters. That's fine and all, but I can think of campaigns where that wouldn't be reasonable, and where the DM might still want to let the PC become a drunken master.

Anyways, maybe the real problem is the conflict between the two definitions of assassin-

1) those people who use the rules from the assassin prestige class, and

2) those people who kill other people for money.

An assassin is really just someone who kills for money (or some other form of compensation, but usually not solely for pleasure or personal gain from the killing itself. An ambitious prince that kills his father isn't really a professional assassin, nor is a depraved serial killer one).

We see that as evil, because we don't like that idea that someone - especially friends or family, or ourselves - could be killed by someone with willful intent, and ideally (from the assassin's POV) with no way to defend against it. But is an assassin really different from a mercenary? A mercenary fights and kills for money; does it matter that one is more prone to appear on the battlefield?

What if the assassin were a bounty hunter of sorts, killing only those who have been found guilty of crimes? Consider a police sniper, who is very much an assassin, yet operates within the law, ostensibly for the public good. In a similar vein, consider a spy or special combat agent who might find himself killing a diplomat, or the leader of an enemy army; is this "evil"? Definitely depends who you ask! What if the assassin had a personal code of honor that limited the jobs he was willing to take?

Obviously, all of these are different from the stereotypical assassin.. but isn't it stereotyping to say that all assassins MUST be evil, regardless of who they are and how they operate? It would certainly be a stretch to say that one could be lawful good (the police sniper MIGHT qualify, though I doubt he would enjoy his job; lawful neutral would be a better fit) but I think there's room for flexibility. I say let the character, not the rules, determine the character's alignment.

I have a gripe with the police sniper example.

A police sniper is only legaly used in hostage situations where a group or individual has opened hostilities and threatens the life of innocents. It is somewhat lawfull and good to save the innocents.

Now if police sniper started killing off crime bosses in their homes, or senators in the opposition or social activists. Most of the good and the lawfull would go with it.

Bounty hunters and assassins are different, although one who nevers bother to bring them back alive would be evil. Well I guess all of us who've seen Logan's run could argue he was a some sort of good assassin... but as in hired killer there is the word killer.

Mercenaries are warriors, they are not necessarly hired to kill. They can guard, protect, capture, escort, patrol. They don't go out of their wy to kill unless they are evil or are fighting an enemy they really hate.

Anywho, just another grain of salt.

Okay, nobody has said this yet but I feel it is neccescary.

Palladium sucks.

It needed to be said. The entire system is convoluted and stupid, regardless of the incarnation. I hate sitting down and spending six hours making a character that I then realize has the shittiest OCC in the game because my buddy with Atlantis just spent as long as I did making an Undead Slayer. Then I die after only an hour of play. I never even got to use all those damn skills. I hate it. And don't give me that 'Hero's Unlimited is a good use of the system' crap. It took me twice as long and I ended up with more stupid skills because none of the packages had what i wantwed unless I wanted to play someone akin to Superman and not The Punisher.

And have you ever tried to RUN the goddamn system. NPC are nigh impossible to manage on anything more than the most basic thug level. And I absolutely hate the whole SDC/MDC thing. I had a squad of Coalition Specail Forces agents in a Rifts game level an antire alpine villa with laser pistols when they were supposed to perform a covert insertion and withdrawl. Then the Juicer OUTRAN an attack chopper. What the f**k is up with that!? And he did it in deep snow while carrying his buddy on his back.

The whole thing is like and convoluted 2nd Ed D&D.

Only worse.

Now I feel I must say that, at least Kevin Simbeada (I know I spelled it wrong) does have some good ideas when it comes to world design, not counting Rifts New West. I enjoyed that aspect of his games allmost enough to fight with that STUPID system.

Allmost, but not quite most of the time.

::End Of Rant::

And, yes, I know that was rather off topic.

Jeez, I should turn that into an article. I could call it "Why I Hate Palladium". Kind of has a nice ring to it.


In Palladium's rules, you can ONLY be an assassin if you are of 'evil' alignment. I still think there can be assassins that aren't evil...


My point was to show that an assassin is just someone who kills people, and that since killing people is not always necessarily evil, neither are assassins necessarily evil. Alignment should be a function of their beliefs and behavior, not their profession.

This assumes, of course, that you believe that killing is not always necessarily evil.. and hence I provided examples of people who might only kill the wicked or the lawfully condemned. No matter what his REASON, a police sniper's job is to kill people, making it the perfect counterexample.

Did they put "the assasin" character back into D&D for 3.5?

Sigh - I thought the original 3e makers were quite clear on why that class was excluded. Essentially anyone is an assassin - who goes on a mission to kill someone. You can look to the Bond or Austin Powers rogues gallery to see a bunch of them, and they all have their own methods.

Methinks I'd be as likely to see a successful Wizard become an assasin as I would a Rogue. The word, to me, conjures a specific task, rather than any one kind of character.


The assassin appears as a prestige class in 3.0: see DMG:29-30.

I think your and Xplo's definition of assassin is the preferable one, but don't get me started - that will take me down the road of railing against class-based systems in general, and who needs that?


Bear in mind, the *only* thing I think Palladium does better than d20 D&D is its alignment system, for the simple reason that any player can look up the alignment requirements and know what is acceptable behavior for her character.

The Palladium conception of diverse, specialized classes of "Men of Magic" is a great one in theory, but the execution is somewhat lacking.

As for the rest of the Palladium rules, well, there's a reason I converted my Palladium campaign world to d20 D&D. ;)

The Paladium RPG system isn't for me either. I remember spending hours upon hours creating characters for Teenage Mutants Ninja Turtles for nothing. I think it's even worst than Rolemaster in terms of clunkiness and lack of game fluidity.

I must admit that the RIFT setting is wickedly cool while many of their "non game mechanic" concepts are interesting.

Otherwise the Paladium system just plain sucks, period, even more than Marina does in D&D the Movie.

The most complicated system I tolerate is GURPS and only because of the simplicity of running a game once characters are created (if you limit the number of supplements used).

Well, at least I'm not the only person who feels that way. I never liked allignment and classes as a character tool anyway. I'll take a free form system like White Wolf, Shadowrun or GURPS any day. And Rifts is my favorite Palladium setting, with the exception of New West which I think blows.

Allignments as a whole annoy the crap out of me no matter what system they're in. D&D I do think does allignments better than Palladium, but then I don't put that much of an emphasis on them anyway.

Oh yeah, and the only thing that didn't suck about the D&D movie was Thora Birch. Not her character mind you, just her.

Apparently, I'm not the only one who uses that movie as a mastabatory aid...

(Awkward silence)

(Whispers) I went too far...

And Sam, you're a bad man. Those who insult Marina in my presence shall face the consequences.

(Rasping, demonic voice)


(Spins head 360 degrees)




Shut up Olly.

You're over-communicating again.

Tranq-dart for Olly, coming right up...

[Protesting] I don't wanna go in the containment cell again, Ass.

*Shows up wearing a white lab coat, straight jacket in hand.*

Just remember your happy place, Olly. It'll be OK.

Olly, Shark, Assassin, Ashaqua if you ever come by Quebec City drop me an e-mail at donjon77@sympatico.ca.

I'll gladly buy the beer/cofee/coco or whatever if you're as much of a nut in person as you are on the net.

Oh yeah alignment.

Well I think alignment problems come up only when all participants of the game can't agree on them.

This becomes a problem in "no alignment games" when players don't agree on acceptable character conduct.
For example, in the Babylon 5 RPG (which has no alignments) I might find turning in a rogue telepath to the Psycore acceptable while other players won't. Alignments give you a baseline (not an exhaustibe rulebook) as to what is acceptable behaviour for your character. That's all.


They should be viewed as GUIDELINES of common behavior of an individual. They should NOT be viewed as rules or limitations of one's actions. They should give a players an IDEA of what CAN (not MUST) be expected of them.

Assassin -

"They should NOT be viewed as rules or limitations of one's actions. They should give a players an IDEA of what CAN (not MUST) be expected of them."

Perhaps so.. unfortunately, they are explicitly viewed as rules and limitations. Some classes have alignment restrictions, and the penalties for breaking them can be severe. Some spells and magic items only work for (or on!) creatures of certain alignments.

Suppose my GM feels that I'm not playing my paladin "good" enough, and strips his powers. I disagree, claiming that his behavior is appropriate for a LG character. Huge fight ensues.. or at least, I feel cheated for being punished although I've done nothing wrong.

In short, alignment and game mechanics don't mix, yet they are inseparable.

Forget D&D. American Beauty....

That's what I'm talking about.

I didn't check gamegrene.com for a while, and when I come back there's this huge discussion thread. :) Thanks, Cocytus, I feel honored that one of my remarks was part of the reasons for you to write this latest article.

Coming late into this, I don't know where to start. Most points I wanted to adress in regard to this topic have already been brought up by others by now, so it would be a waste of bandwidth if I basically wrote the same things just dressed up a bit differently.

I especially agree with most things stated here by Cocytus, Xplo, Nephandus, cadfan, sam_from_quebec, Mo, and Olly's "goblin baby scenario". (Just to warn people on which side of the argument I will come in. :-P)

I'll post more tomorrow after a night's sleep and after I had a chance to read through the postings again.

Sam, I would be honoured to join you in Quebec city for a bit of a get-together, though I'm not sure when I'm next in Canada. Just make sure you've got shedloads of Coca-Cola. I love that stuff!

Oh, Alignment. Yeah. Killin' goblin babies is wrong.

Snowboarding and gaming in Canada would be sweet...

Oh yeah, babies...

Don't let Crazy-Eddie put goblin-babies on spikes.

(Turns to the East, kneels on the floor and prays, whilst mumbling 'Izzard!')

Oh and Sam, when I go to Canada to visit you, as well as loads of Coca-Cola, I also will require a harem of the most beautiful, intelligent and virginal women Canada has to offer to accompany me. Obviously.

It'll be great fun. You could teach us all Canadianese, and we could go out hunting for moose, and annoying the mounties, and entering maple syrup eating contests, and playing ice hockey, and farting on one another's heads, and saying 'Eh?' at the end of every sentence... Oh it'll be a laugh.

Hum... Olly you watch too much South Park.

And I'm in Quebec beautiful and intelligent women are plentiful, they don't remain virginal for long unless they want it that way.

Saying Eh isn't that common in Quebec, even among the anglos.

Snowboarding and gaming... yeah that'd be great Mystic Assassin. Freestyle or Racing?

Anywho, this article and the others it inspired from have forced me to rethink some of my positions on certain alignments, or at least how I implement alignments in my game. Great job Cocytus.

Hum... Olly you watch too much South Park.

And I'm in Quebec beautiful and intelligent women are plentiful, they don't remain virginal for long unless they want it that way.

Saying Eh isn't that common in Quebec, even among the anglos.

Snowboarding and gaming... yeah that'd be great Mystic Assassin. Freestyle or Racing?

Anywho, this article and the others it's inspired from have forced me to rethink some of my positions on certain alignments, or at least how I implement alignments in my game. Great job Cocytus.

Backcountry for me, please...

Just me and the mountain...and soft, pillowy powder to fall into.

Trees, clearly marked and wrapped like football goal-posts.

You mean... You DON'T fart on one another's heads as a favourite past time in Canada?

But what about that whole war you had with the USA, because of a movie with foul language in it, which was eventually stopped by the Satanic wishes of a anorak-wearing eight year old?

Wazzat ! sweetness and light breaking out ! Gotta stop this quick:

'I like Goblin babies, but I don't think I could eat a whole one.'


(Snatches baby goblin away, cuddles it paternally)

It's OK, Grubb, that bad man won't hurt you, I won't let him...


I just realized why I frequent this site...

I...am a dork.

Paladins: Considering they're based on Knights of the Crusades, yes they will slaughter evil Goblin women and children (and looking at historical acccounts from the Middle East, will also eat the children if they're Hungry). If your God (or your God's representative) says it's OK, that's all there is to it. Period.

Generally. abolish alignments - a historical legacy that is not needed and much abused.

Says Paul the Satanist.

Paul's got a point.

Since throughout the dark ages, religion was used primarily as a means to control and instill FEAR into people, rather than bring hope and positive energy...

Actually in Quebec it was till much later than that.

The catholic church sold the french canadian to the british (by that I mean collaborated with the occupation forces and declared that opposing the invaders was opposing god's will) in exange we got to remain catholic! Woopdy doo!
Church held a tight grasp around education and politics all the way into the 60's till we said. That's enough and raised a collective finger towards Vatican.
It's taken 40 years for the yourger generations to forgive (or forget) the church and see it as something other than a tool for those in power to control the people.

Getting back on topic now.

Actually the knights of the crusades were not devout paladins for the greater majority.
They were either:
1 - Glory seekers.
2 - Greedy bastards in search of richess to pillage.
3 - Black sheep or rivals, their families wanted to be rid of but couldn't murder.
4 - Small nobles fearing the loss of their title or excommunion if they didn't join.

Most people joined the crusades by self interest, not for spiritual or religious reasons.

Paladins are not based on the Knights of the Crusades, they are based on the "White Knight in Shining Armour" from fairie tales and have almost no historical basis (besides their name and supposed powers over evil).
In D&D if your religious leader orders you to slaughter innocents (a direct violation of the paladin's code) then by all means you should refuse (I'd also use my detect evil on him to make sure he's not an impostor or possessed or something) if you blindingly accept hand over your character sheet you're now a black guard my friend.

Not to start the whole Bush debate again. But he, Saddam, Ben Ladden and many other leaders who commit their people to war often quote scripture and implore divine right or whatever religious nonsense to convince people to jump in and get killed to help them meet their ambitions.

Religion like anything that has a hold on our psyche can help others manipulate us (be it for our own good or theirs). In many ways the dark ages are back I find and exactly for the reasons Mystic mentioned.

Sometimes I feel like politicians and the media are so focussed on fear, hatred and violence that they leave very little room for hope and positive energy.

A truly Lawfull Good person in our society would probably be called a lunatic unless he or she went Mother Theresa's way.

Sam said:

"Paladins are not based on the Knights of the Crusades, they are based on the "White Knight in Shining Armour" from fairie tales and have almost no historical basis (besides their name and supposed powers over evil)."

This is essentially true, but I take exception with a few of your details. While there have probably never been any truly just and noble holy warriors, the paladin class is based on the knights of Charlemagne.

I would agree with you that the exploits of Charlemagne's knights were exaggerated and lionized by their chroniclers. They were probably no more virtuous than the primitive Briton king who inspired the Arthurian legend. But there is a historical basis for paladins, even if it is a tenuous one.

History has a reputation for going to war, and then having the winners write the history as to just who the good guys and the bad guys were. Almost always, the heroic good guys were the winners and the despicable bad guys are the losers.

In recent times, however, this has gone back to front. We empathise with the people we are at war with, whilst we no longer support our own governments in anything, because we feel we 'can't trust them'. We voted for the bloody people, surely we should be able to trust them.

Sorry about this, this isn't about politics, but my own view is that we should support our own, not our enemies.

Olly said:

"In recent times, however, this has gone back to front. We empathise with the people we are at war with, whilst we no longer support our own governments in anything, because we feel we 'can't trust them'."

Well, I don't know about you, but I don't trust my government for doodly-squat.

It really hacks me off when some people want to speak out about something that's bothering them - say it's a war they think is stupid or poorly justified, for example - and people who are in favor of whatever the protesters are against say, "These people are traitors. They want to give comfort to our enemies. Go to Iraq if you don't like it here!"

It's not so wrong to speak your mind. In my country, it's supposedly one of the founding principles of the whole deal. What's really going back to front is these jerks saying, oh, we've got to take your liberties away because these other people are out to get us.

Just because you think a governmental policy is a bad one doesn't make you a traitor. In my book, it makes you a patriot. Isn't a patriot someone who cares for what his country stands for? Isn't a patriot somebody brave enough to stand up and say, "hey, this isn't what we're supposed to be about"?

Frankly, I empathize with our troops just fine. They're getting shot at! That's going to suck, no matter how you slice it. Just because I also empathize with the 11-year-old kids who get "smart bombs" dropped on their houses or hospitals doesn't mean I don't care about our lads, too. It's a war zone. It's crap for everybody.

And it's worse if you're one of the ones who said they shouldn't even be there. Now they're just getting shot at, and there's nothing you can do about it.

And then some bozo or garden variety fascist comes along and tells you that you should shut up and "trust the government." Sure. I trust them. I trust them to get our lads killed for strange reasons, far from home.

Olly said:

"We voted for the bloody people, surely we should be able to trust them."

In this case, I didn't vote for the bastards. And I intend to volunteer for the guys running against them, on the off-chance that one more person will make a difference. Because I don't believe in lying down and taking it when somebody tramples all over everything that matters to me.

Sorry about the rant, Olly, but your post showed up in my mailbox because I'm the author of the thread. As you can see, it touched a nerve.


Sorry about that, anyone who happens across it. We now return you to our regularly scheduled discussion of alignments...

WAIT! WAIT! I haven't gone yet! My turn...my turn!


With regards to the whole "protesting/anti-protesting* thing...

Protestors say... "Don't send American Troops to war!"
But US Troops are saying... "Its our duty to go, shutup you bunch of pussies!"

I can understand a war protest for political reasons. But a large percentage of "anti's" are greatly mis-informed and don't have any reasons behind their protesting, other than "war is bad."

The world isn't perfect and THAT is why war is sometimes necessary. Once the human race evolves BEYOND greed and hatred, then...well...by then I'm sure the aliens will be invading...so...

*glances upward*

...humans suck...bring on the invasion...


Politics suck.
Especially in the US.

Olly said:
"We voted for the bloody people, surely we should be able to trust them."

I say:
We didn't vote for George W. Bush but he's president anyway. And what does he do? The great American tradition. Go into a weaker country and tell them how they are going to do things. He has done it twice now. First with Afghanistan and then with Iraq.

But I am NOT going to get into a rant about American politics.

And Olly, how the hell do you vote for Queen? Isn't she like there anyway?

Now we return you to your regularly scheduled discussion on the wanton slaughter of goblin babies.


The queen is a powerless head of state, Eater. She lost her powers to govern years ago, and England's affairs are now run by our prime minister.

Our queen doesn't do anything any more. She just sits there, growing fat on our income, with all her inbred kin. (If the Queen is reading this, "I'm sorry, Ma'am, I was just joking. I hope this won't in any way affect my knighthood, will it?")

I think if the queen wants to be loved by the British people, she has to start acting like a real monarch. You know; beheading, demanding tribute from travelling aristocrats, and most of all, leading our armies into war.

Becuase, I think if the queen lead our armies into war, we would win every war we fought, because the enemy wouldn't be able to get through the police barriers, so we'd just mop 'em up!

I don't want to offend anyone by saying this, but it seems to me that voting for George W. Bush in America is a bit like voting Conservative in the UK. Lots of people do it must do it, but nobody will admit to it.

*New British National Anthem*

God attack the queen
Send big dogs after her
That bite her bum

Let them chase after her
And rip her knickers off...

Sorry I have sent this discussion the wrong way haven't I, so sorry. Olly thank god for the UK you're not their minister of defense. If british tacticians had been as clever as you... French would still be the international language... but then custommer service wouldn't exist, bureaucracies would be even less efficient and movies would all have weird endings that make no sense.

Back to paladins and alignments. I totally agree that while Charlemagne and his paladins are as unrealistically portrayed as king Arthur and his knights, there is some historical basis.
But, the D&D Knightly characters are based on the romantic version of these two famous knightly orders not the historical facts. Just as swashbucklers are based on romance novel musketeers and the likes, not the real duelists of the... 17th? century. Anywho.

But I think I've found a glitch in this discussion. It seems to me that some people find that alignments should "dictate" what how a certain character should be played while others think alignments should reflect how a character acts and thinks.
Hum... I'm not really sure where I stand on this.
What do you guys think.

Sam sayeth:
'Olly thank god for the UK you're not their minister of defense. If british tacticians had been as clever as you... French would still be the international language... but then custommer service wouldn't exist, bureaucracies would be even less efficient and movies would all have weird endings that make no sense.'

Up spake our hero, bold, righteous and handsome Olly, the slayer of sensibility:
But on the plus side, everything we said would sound sexy, and we'd have fit women in berets walking around, and we'd wear onions around our necks. And they're be less pollution because we'd all ride bicylces everywhere. We'd have a rather ugly countryside resembling a patchwork quilt of farms and wineyards, but on the plus side, we'd have beautiful cities with towers and suchlike... How many other slightly racist stereotypes can I work into this?

Oh, and in England, Sam, we don't have a Ministry of Defense. We've got a Ministry Of Defence, though.

Ah, the subtle joys of making fun of non-English spelling!

Maudit anglais!

Yelleth the french canadian in barely contained anger.

By the way folks happy holidays, it's great the way discussions on this site, while volatile at times remain civilised and intelligent.

Oh and you have to see Return of the King, Orlando does such a better job than Olly could ever had.

Olly? let go of that wrench man! I was just yanking your chain! Noooooo! thump.

Hmmm... I love political debate... but I restrain myself to keep within subject.

Anyway, we know that Olly is not interested in goblin babies. Hes really after the Goblin women. Cause they look better than the females he usually drugs, sorry I meant dates.

I think this subject has been done to death. I'm sure that we have several threads open on alignment.

When we L/G muslims take over the world, we'll take all you C/E DEMON-WORSHIPPING D&D players, load you into a catupult and fire you into the firmanent as a testament to our holiness and piety.

Not the women of course. They go straight into my personal harem. Thus the world will become a better place for me at least.

Oh crap who am I kidding. My wife wont let me have a harem, even a small one. Women are so insecure.

Merry christmas and a happy new year.

Sam said:

"It seems to me that some people find that alignments should 'dictate' what how a certain character should be played while others think alignments should reflect how a character acts and thinks."

I'll recapitulate my position on this for the sake of a little conversational focus.

As I said in the article, and as Xplo restated nicely a few posts above, the PHB makes an unconvincing claim that alignment is not a straitjacket. Why is it unconvincing? Because some classes (such as the Paladin) lose their special powers if they change alignment, and the bulk of the rest do not permit characters to continue advancing in the class if they have changed to prohibited alignments.

In my campaigns, alignment more or less dictates how a character should behave. There is some leeway: I agree with the sentiment that a Lawful Good character does not *always* have to behave in a Lawful Good fashion. However, if a character consistently deviates from the alignment, or if she commits an act radically out of keeping with her chosen alignment, I will change that character's alignment to reflect her behavior.

Mo, you say the goblin women thing like it's bad. I like the green skin and warts.

And, thank you Olly for the amusing mental image I got of Elizabeth riding command of a British tank collumn doing that stupid little wave thing.

As I said waaaay the hell up there ^

"They should be viewed as GUIDELINES of common behavior of an individual. They should NOT be viewed as rules or limitations of one's actions. They should give a players an IDEA of what CAN (not MUST) be expected of them."

To add to this, there are certain character classes (Cocytus' post) that require and/or enforce adherance to the alignment descriptions. In these situations the player should follow the rules...OR discuss options with the GM before playing. AND USE COMMON SENSE!

e.g. - Ferron the Holy Priest of Kindness will NOT sedate and sodomize goblin babies...are we clear?

If alignments are just guidelines, they aren't necessary. If I thought alignment was just a tool for developing characters, I'd have abolished it.

As another year of one's reign comes to an end, Phileeep and oneself would like to say to all enemies of our realm...


(Fires cannon!)

And, I think Cocytus has hit it right on the head here... If I may quote Capt. Barbossa from the excellent movie, Pirates Of The Caribbean...

The [alignment] code isn't so much rules, as it is guidelines!


I hit the nail! I OWN THE NAIL!


Ass said:
"Ferron the Holy Priest of Kindness will NOT sedate and sodomize goblin babies...are we clear?"

I said:
Can we really take the chance and allow our goblin chidrean to be altar boys of this so called 'Preist of Kindness'? The last time he had legal action brought against him for molestation he was cleared but I said no way was I gonna let my little goblin go back to be an altar boy at his so called 'Church of Kindness'.

Yeah...I made my point.

I made my point without even saying that Ferron was catholic...


Were I not now an eclectic I would be offended by that comment about Catholic priests. Come on, it's as bad for them as any other... faction? of the church.

Apparently, in the Church of Satan, you get kicked out for NOT buggering the chior boys.

Well, I'm pagan so I can make fun of whoever I want.

Oh, and I can bugger whoever I want too.

::slides up between Olly and Ass::

Hey guys. Wanna go somewhere a little more private.
wink, wink
nudge, nudge
knowwhatimean, knowwhatimean



*jumps both Olly and Eater's bones*


WAIT! Only if you tell me that I am serving God by doing so...

Just close you're eyes, lay back and think of England, Ass, (or in your case, South Africa) it'll be OK.

Well, there's egg and bacon; egg, sausage and bacon; egg and spam; egg, bacon and spam; egg, bacon, sausage and spam; spam, bacon, sausage and spam; spam, egg, spam, spam, bacon and spam; spam, sausage, spam, spam, spam, bacon, spam, tomato and spam; spam, spam, spam, egg and spam; (Vikings start singing in background) spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, baked beans, spam, spam, spam and spam.

*looking around*

wait...what'd I miss?

It is God's wish that we do so. Truly, he told me so himself.

Oh, I'll have the spam, spam, sausage and spam, but cna I sustitute the sausage for spam?

No wonder the alignment system is so damned screwed up, if people like all of you are interpretting it. I think I've become stupider just by reading this comment sheet. You're all madmen. Or women. Or whatever.

Well Anonymous, I agree. I feel stupider for having joined in.
And we are mad, but we've gotten better about being on topic.

Blast! I did it again!

Topic! Topic! Alignment, right. Alignment sucks, go White Wolf!

I started an article basically in direct response to this that addresses most of the points (in my estimation) quite elegantly.

To be honest, I'm rather perplexed that you are so perplexed by the definition of good and evil. It is by no means a rigid definition, which is why the term "implies" is used.

I made a preliminary post of my article (mistakenly) under the heading of Scorpio's article, but I can address some major points here.

I think it is biggest strength of the D&D alignment system that it is _not_ tied to specific behaviors. ANY act can be evil with the right intentions and the right context, whether it be to heal a child (that will later grow up to become a violent warlord) or tell the truth (that you tell for personal gain, at the cost of someone else's happiness).

Palladium's definition actually falls prey to the same problems you bring up. So, is it evil for a good person to kill an unarmed foe who they have sufficient evidence to believe will later kill an innocent? If the only way to save the village is to torture the Orc king, is the good person not allowed to, even though more stand to suffer from the Orc king _not_ being tortured?

No, I am not convinced that listing out specific behaviors associated with an alignment isn't all that useful; it's good for getting a general idea, but the minute any sort of ambiguity crops up, you have to toss it aside.

Let's see...

I thought it would be pretty obvious that the Paladin should not kill the goblin women and children; they are completely at his mercy and pose no threat to him. Killing is more or less irrevocable; resurrection (which is costly and damaging to the resurrectee, but that is beside the point) aside, killing is not something to be done lightly, especially if you value life (and someone who is good does tend to value life).

Clint Eastwood's character's act was neutral. He probably knew that the guy he was shooting was evil and did bad things, and so the man's death would have a good result. However, your description implies to me that he was not the main reason why he killed this guy, although it may have factored into his decision. First and foremost, he killed the man out of vengeance, and in cold blood. The fact that the overall result of his actions is probably good cancels out the fact that it was a pretty evil thing to shoot an unarmed guy who is completely at his mercy.

I like that example,t hough, because it illustrates that playing alignment hard and fast is a silly idea, and relies a lot more on role-playing than you would first suspect.

My article will attempt to address the various ways you can ease up on alignment and make it more of a role-playing tool than a system mechanic, so if you're interested, stay tuned... or check out what I have so far on the other comment board, keeping in mind that it is a rough draft. :)

Anonymous: no thanks at all for one of the least constructive comments I've ever seen on this site. Perhaps you don't give a name because you lack the courage of your convictions. Perhaps you don't provide any arguments because you don't have any, only insults and an unsubstantiated opinion. Either way, I don't have to listen to the likes of you.

Tra'Hari said:

"My article will attempt to address the various ways you can ease up on alignment and make it more of a role-playing tool than a system mechanic..."

I read both your posts, and I found them interesting. But you're missing the key point: alignment *is* a system mechanic, whether anyone wants it to be or not. The spells and effects listed make it so. The PHB's curious insistence that it is not a straitjacket is muddle-headed at best.

Xplo summed up my position very well a number of posts back. If I may, I'll just re-paste what he said here.

Xplo said:

"... unfortunately, they are explicitly viewed as rules and limitations. Some classes have alignment restrictions, and the penalties for breaking them can be severe. Some spells and magic items only work for (or on!) creatures of certain alignments.

Suppose my GM feels that I'm not playing my paladin "good" enough, and strips his powers. I disagree, claiming that his behavior is appropriate for a LG character. Huge fight ensues.. or at least, I feel cheated for being punished although I've done nothing wrong.

In short, alignment and game mechanics don't mix, yet they are inseparable."

Tra'Hari, you say that the Palladium system falls prey to the same problems faced by the D&D one. Within the bounds you establish, you might be right. But my experience has been that, by establishing more explicit guidelines, the Palladium system has to be chucked aside far less often than the D&D one. In the years I used it, I never once argued about it with a player.

Tra'Hari said:

"So, is it evil for a good person to kill an unarmed foe who they have sufficient evidence to believe will later kill an innocent?"

In the Palladium system, the answer is a simple "yes". It is evil. Period. This, I would argue, is the same reason Batman never kills the Joker and Superman never kills Lex Luthor. When fighting evil, to become what you behold is to have failed.

"If the only way to save the village is to torture the Orc king, is the good person not allowed to, even though more stand to suffer from the Orc king _not_ being tortured?"

If the *only* way to save the village is to torture the orc king, then you have either a bad DM or an unimaginative crew of players. ;) But taking this question on its face, again the answer is "No, the principled person is not allowed to torture the orc king." Notice I don't say the "good" person because Principled is the only alignment in Palladium that can never engage in torture under any circumstances.

This is why I prefer the Palladium system: there's not much ambiguity. Player expectations and DM expectations of alignment behavior are the same. When using the Palladium alignment system, the only argument is whether the rules are just or not: the argument is *not* over what the rules say.

The _Unforgiven_ example, in my estimation, illustrates only how silly the D&D alignment system is. In Palladium, I can describe William Munny's alignment behavior precisely, and with little room for debate. In D&D, I'm just at a loss...even if I come up with a good, well-reasoned interpretation, someone else will be able to come up with equally good reasons why my interpretation is wrong.

I look forward to your article, but I still think the D&D alignment system is terrible. As of this writing, I do not plan ever to use it again in a role-playing campaign.

Here's a little preface: one of my motivations behind writing an article on this topic is, in part, giving players and GMs the knowledge to think outside of the small guidelines given either by the Palladium system or by the 3rd Edition alignment system. Rather than look at the book for a list, I think it is a better establish a really basic notion of good and evil, and go from there. If everyone can get on the same page, then the bickering is minimized, and there are fewer people complaining about system effects (especially if you use your imagination when it comes to alignment detection / affecting spells).

I don't exactly expect to revolutionize gaming or cure cancer, but it'd be nice if some people thought a little more about this topic as a result of reading my humble article.

That said, we proceed to my (lengthy!) response!

To be frank, I think stripping a Paladin's alignment in that fashion is a rather hamfisted and draconic way of addressing the situation, and bespeaks a fundamental difference of approach in how I think alignment should be handled, and how I imagine a great deal many people handle it. I suspect that this is the source of a lot of our disagreements.

The image of the DM evoked by Xplo reminds me of someone who would also make a player stick to a mistake that a given character would not make, but a player _would_ make based on information that they didn't hear or misinterpreted. ("The spikes fall from the ceiling and kill you." "What? Spikes?" "Yes, I described them a minute ago." "I didn't hear you say that! Everyone else was still arguing! If I'd known that, I would've searched for traps. My _character_ certainly would have seen them and acted accordingly." "Nope, it's too late now; you already said you walked into the room, so now you're dead. Roll up a new character.")

In the latter case, I would (of course) let the character search for traps. However, if he still set them off, I wouldn't let him "redo" just because he approached it the wrong way; even if he tried to argue "Well, I wouldn't have approached it in that way which is why I failed," I wouldn't allow it, because he already had a fair chance.

In the former example, I would say that a Paladin committing an evil act doesn't happen in a void (or at least, it shouldn't). Does the character know he's about to commit an evil act? What is her rationale for doing so? Does the player think it is acceptable within the constraints of her character's ethos and alignment? How does her character feel about it? Obtaining the answers to those questions should make it easy to get to the meat of whether or not the Paladin has done something wrong.

A more subtle point here is that if your DM isn't open to any discussion at all, he's a jerk; rule zero of being a DM is listening to your players. If a player thinks someone is unfair, and there is _any_ merit to his claim, then something is up. This is just common sense, and at the risk of sounding even more snobbish than I will later, it's illogical to fault a system because of someone who is an inferior DM.

This is not meant to imply that I am an accompished DM or anything of the sort (I am far from it), but I do think that matters as fundamental as a character's central set of abilites and powers merits a little more discussion than "Whoops, that's evil! Sorry!" Any prospect of alignment change is something that should take place in the context of a discussion between player and DM so that the DM can get a good idea of where the player and the character are coming from. For any character class whose alignment is central to their character, this is _should_ be a no-brainer... but I suspect that this approach falls more into the role-playing heavy approach to gaming that a large portion of the D&D playing population does not subscribe to. (By no means is that a veiled accusation; I am merely speaking in general.)

This ties in with what I read in your post: I think I see part of our differences, especially why you prefer Palladium over D&D (in terms of alignment), and why I do not.

The Palladium system works right out of the box, with no discussion. That is to say, it's extremely easy for a DM and a player to agree on what does and does not fall under the rubric (oh, man... I can't believe I used that word) of a given alignment because, well, it's on a list. There's not much room for discussion, as the rules are rather black and white in this regard, consisting of a set of distinct behaviors associated with an alignment.

That is precisely why I don't like it. It seems that Palladium reduces alignment to an enumerative system where X, X, and X all run counter to this alignment, A, A, and A all run counter to this alignment, and so on. The richness of a system with more leeway is completely absent here. Instead of your character examining his conscience for his intent and for what he really believes in, you run down a list and check off points to make sure you're not evil. It's so formulaic as to be implausible; _everyone_ following this alignment shares these hard and fast beliefs? That reminds me of D&D 2nd's completely arbitrary rules that I came to loathe and mock. ("Nope, despite the fact that nature is central to their way of life, Elves _can't_ be Druids. Also, only Humans can be Paladins.")

The fact that it's enumerative is also not terribly exciting for me, as it undercuts the notion of moral ambiguity, which (as I may have mentioned before) is something that I think is a great role-playing opportunity for characters to whom alignment is central to their concept or class. Sure, they can wonder about whether or not torture in the name of a good cause is all _that_ bad, but everyone at the gaming table knows what happens when the character breaks that rule. In D&D, a Lawful Good character can still torture people, as torture is not explicitly prohibited ("He is an Orc, and he holds the key to the safey of our village. It is regrettable, but it is a small sacrifice for the lives of all of those women and children.").

The trouble of arguments over acceptable behavior is also only slightly mitigated. Give a bad player a set of rules, and they will follow them to the letter, not the spirit. (Prohibition on killing the unarmed? "What? He had a sword, so he wasn't defenseless! It's not _my_ fault I'm 20th level and he's not!" Gotta work well in a group? "I may be the healer, but he insulted me, and he's too far away anyway.").

The potential result here is that even though the player believes that killing someone who couldn't possibly defend themselves (despite being armed) is okay, the DM might not. Thus, your GM can just as easily slap you down as he can in D&D for a reason that _you_ think is unjustified. (Or, he might _not_ slap that player down despite the fact that they're being an ass!)

What's the distinction between killing someone who is armed and helpless before you as opposed to simply unarmed before you? I don't think there is one, but according to the rules set down for alignment, there's room for one. This problem has a simple answer, of course: the player in question is a twit, and of course they're violating their principles. But it's still a potential sticking point.

Or, for a meatier example, in the case of an enemy who is unlikely to be able to defend themselves against you, are you obligated to level the playing field (i.e., challenge them to a duel, where they pick the standards by which you will both be judged)? After all, a 3rd level evil Aristocrat has no chance of beating a 10th level Paladin, so he's functionally defenseless. That example is not so clear, as the Paladin has what could be considered a hugely unfair advantage, with his training and experience. The honorable thing to do would be to level the playing field so that the Paladin is proven the better man, but how much is required? The DM is forced to make an arbitration that may differ from the player's conception of the rule.

Finally, I'm assuming that if you don't find an alignment that suits you, you have to make one up or alter an existing one. That could (depending on whether or not Palladium has the capacity for that) lead to other game balance issues, with people just making up their own alignments, which defeats the purpose of a common set of rules. The DM now has to chase after the players to provide him with the guidelines of their alignments, either making them write them down (and now he has four or five more things to keep track of). He must also make sure they are clear enough: "Never torture another unless it is necessary." What does _that_ mean?

I'm afraid I'll sound like a snob when I bring this up, but honestly, I think Palladium's alignment system caters to inferior role-playing. That is not meant to be self-aggrandizing, and I offer my humbles apologies if it seems so. What I mean by that is, in general, I think there should be a very fluid give and take in between player and DM: players shouldn't try to abuse or cheese out the rules, and DMs should always be open to discussion about their game. If you assume neither of those, then Palladium's system works beautifully. If you assume both, D&D's alignment system also works beautifully.

(Of course, it always pays to use the right tools; I must say that you've convinced me that Palladium's alignments are the best thing for a group of players notorious for trying to use and abuse systems. In a situation like that, I would do what you suggest, and try to cross-reference Palladium alignments as best I could and hold players to those principles.)

But, it does not escape my noticed that I am probably in the minority on this issue. My gaming background has probably been fairly exceptional; I've had the privilege of participating in numerous discussions about alignment with my gaming group (and zero arguments). Through these discussions, we all reached the same conclusions, and a lot of my conclusions that I discuss here stemmed from these discussions.

(Also, I'm sure it does not help that Mage, with its extremely loose definitions of the Spheres, for example, is by far my favorite game.) (Mmm, Mage.)

Or, put another way, I'm sure there are a lot of people that would rather skip any debate about alignment entirely. In this context, it's easy to see the the appeal of Palladium's system: it gives everyone a list of lists of moral behavior to choose from, providing a common reference that removes any room for discussion (or, perhaps more cynically, argument). Everyone knows where they stand, with no room for debate. To that I say: fair enough.

I'm not sure whether or not I addressed your point with regards to it being a function of the system whether we like it or not. My attitude is to accept that, and integrate it with role-playing tightly enough that the problem is minimized, if not eliminated altogether. There are practical approaches to some of the other system problems, such as radar characters, but that is slightly off base.

I think I'll wrap this up by saying that I am indebted to you for your _Unforgiven_ example, as it is a fantastic illustration of a neutral act, and of the analysis led to that conclusion (which I believe to be simple and intuitive, but perhaps you should be the judge). I will note that I have not seen the movie, but that is not what is important here; what is important is the methodology.

The biggest problem with your various rationale of how it could be considered good, neutral, and/or evil all rest on contradictory premises. On the one hand, you say it might be evil because Skinny wasn't _really_ hurting anyone, but then your rationale for "good" says that he probably _was_ hurting people. Which is it? You're the DM, after all, so there is no need for qualifiers such as "arguably"; _you_ determine the tone and the consequences in your game, so if this were to take place in a game, you don't need to guess at what happens. You _determine_ it.

So, let's apply my rules.

Skinny didn't care about his prostitutes' well-being (callous disregard for life), and he let an innocent man die through wilful negligence (callous again, and compliant to murder). If I am understanding you correctly, not only did these acts/events serve his interests in some fashion or another, but he profited by these (which just compounds the last two points). That sounds like cut and dried evil to me, so, Skinny is evil.

Munny, on the other hand, sounds like he was new to town, so he couldn't have known all that much about Skinny and his activities in town; did Munny have sufficient reason to believe that Skinny was not coerced? Or that he was even responsible? It's far more likely that Munny saw his dead friend, was outraged, and shot what he knew to be an unarmed man. Someone who is unarmed is not necessarily an innocent (is a murderer without a gun innocent?), but shooting someone in cold blood demonstrates a callous disregard for other life, something that is definitely more evil than good. Finally, vengeance in the form of violence is pretty sketchy, especially in such a cold-blooded fashion. It may or may not be premeditated, but Munny knew exactly what he was doing, and probably took some manner of pleasure in what he did.

However! Before we pass judgement on Munny, let's look at the "good" in this situation.

We've already established that Skinny was evil, and as the DM, you can assume that it was unlikely that he'd change. Therefore, a lot of good might come to the town with his removal. Furthermore, as the DM, you can say that he _did_ contribute to the corruption of the town, and contributing to the degradation of morals is evil (it causes a ripple effect of pain/destruction). Finally, I'll bet Munny was no idiot, and was aware of at least some of this; while his friend may've been what was on his mind, I'm sure he knew he'd be ridding the world of a scumbag (and it's reasonable to say that that is good).

So, this isn't really a question of math or connect the dots, but from there, it's simple. A good man kills an evil man in a rather evil way, with mixed intent, and good result. The act is certainly not good, as good strives to do the least harm, but it's certainly not evil because Munny is reasonably sure the guy is a waste product, and as the DM, you _know_ that the village stands to benefit from Skinny's death. Munny probably believes this, too, and fundamentally, we can assume he's a pretty good guy.

We've got a mixed bag here, and good and evil don't really come out on top. Hence, neutral. (And moral ambiguity! Awesome!)

Now, what happens if Skinny is replaced by someone worse (say, Fathead)? In general, a non-evil character would recognize that they are responsible for Fathead's rise to power, and would try to address it. A neutral character might be able to get away with not doing anything ("It's just one more evil guy in a town full of them."). Whether or not _that_ is evil depends on whether or not the character has sufficient reason to believe that they could do something about it... if the character knows it's as simple as sending a letter, then it's evil not to do anything because addressing the problem involves minimal risk and effort on the part of the character.

However, if the character has sufficient reason to believe that Fathead is causing a lot more harm than Skinny ever could have, a non-evil character is obligated to do something about it since they are indirectly responsible for his rise to power: non-evil characters care more about others than non-evil, and it would be irresponsible not to clean up your own mess. I would say that a Paladin would be _obligated_ to right that, but whether or not a Lawful Good character would be obligated depends on the character.

If, on the other hand, someone _else_ kills Skinny, and Fathead rises to power, it's a little different. The neutral character from the previous example would have no responsibility for Fathead's status. It would not be evil not to take up arms against Fathead, but if there are some small ways the player could help, it would probably be evil to turn them away. The example of the letter still holds as stated, as if he has sufficient reason to believe evil is taking place, and he could put an end to it with minimal effort and personal risk, it would be evil not to commit such a simple act. Unless he had more pressing concerns, a Paladin would be obligated to do something about it. Not to do so would be sketchy, at the very least.

It would also be evil to ignore or turn away someone asking for simple aid that was hurt by Fathead (such as medical supplies and staying the night), as long as it was reasonably within the means of the character to do so (and all things being equal, those are fairly reasonable).

However, if they run the risk of angering Fathead as a result of providing shelter and medical supplies, _not_ to provide either would be on the evil side (not even a single bandage?!), and to provide both would be very good (you're taking a personal risk to help someone else). An adept role-player would be able to find some compromise, with the obvious solution being to provide them with medical supplies but not allowing them to stay the night. That would be neutral, as you acknowledge their needs and you give them _some_ aid, though that aid that costs you next to nothing or causes no personal risk.

(FWIW, a situation where time is of the essence is a good example where you have to make a choice between two alternatives, regardless of how imaginative the DM or players are. So, if the entire village was to die in a three hours, it's a day's ride for any external assistance, and you've used up your resources from the previous battle, maybe torturing the Orc king isn't such a bad idea. Admittedly, since we're speaking theoretically, we have the luxury of being able to craft the example however we like, but sometimes it's very dramatic to provide the players with a situation that- if nothing else- _appears_ unwinnable. Great loves and kingdoms have risen and fallen on the backs of such choices.)

Of course, if you're a 20th level character and Fathead's just a weenie by comparison, to not offer any aid or do something about him would be fairly evil, since you could _probably_ make him wet his pants merely by speaking with him firmly. :)

That's a fantastic post, Tra'Hari, and I will give it the attention it deserves when I have the time to do so.

For the time being, I wish only to say that I agree with you that Munny's execution of Skinny was a neutral act. That's how it felt to me in the movie, and that's how it feels upon reflection. My point in using it was to say that I think arguments can be made about the goodness, evil, or neutrality of it. In the end, it comes down to a matter of opinion.

More to come, of course, but...have I mentioned how much I like _Unforgiven_? Did I say I think it's the best Western of contemporary cinema? If not, consider it said.

And see it. If you are not completely satisfied, your wasted time will be refunded.

Thank you! I appreciate the compliment!

I feel that I may have been a bit harsh towards Palladium. I could not bear a system with which I am not familiar any ill will. I could definitely see myself using its alignment with a less than ideal group of gamers. That is not meant to damn by faint praise, either; I don't know much about Palladium, and I will give it as fair a shake as any other system.

IMHO, every system has its strengths and weaknesses, and D&D's certainly got its fair share of both (I guess evil gods just don't go for that whole Paladin thing... oh, wait... there's a prestige class with silly requirements!).

I think I shall definitely add _Unforgiven_ to my list of movies to see... the next time we go out for a rental, I'll go for it. I'll probably use _Unforgiven_ in my article, too, so I must thank you again.

Oh, and if you like, we could move this to e-mail, if you prefer. I don't mean to deluge you with long-ness, and I'm not sure if other people are particularly enamored of it, either. (I'm still sick, so I spent the entire afternoon and early evening on that post. ;)

Are we still talking about alignments?

*looks up*

Oh yeah, that's what the article is about...

Okay then. Palladium does have its problems with regards to being too long and drawn out when it comes to...well...everything. The books are generally huge and the rules and procedures therein are equally gartantuate (try reading the 'Hardware PC' section in the HEROES book...yawn).

I guess the boys at Palladium felt they should address every single detail and every possible scenario with much detail. And considering the many different dice rolls that takes place during battle (a 10-second battle in-game usually takes about 3 hours to roll): This may just be the reason why the Palladium series are not as popular among gamers as they should be...


My biggest beef with Palladium, stupid system aside, is the need a goddamn editor. Every book is a royal pain to try and decypher, then none of them have an index so finding anything quickly is neigh impossible.

I hate Palladium.

To avoid another rant about how much they suck I will get back on topic. I dislike allignment in any incarnation, I believe that the basis of good and evil are so blurry that it is impossible to define them in any kind of world veiw and come away with anything that defines a character. It is for this reason that the games I write have no allignment.

So to sum up my point. I hate Palladium. Allignments and all.

Tra'Hari, great reading you. I have only one problem with your analysis of Munny's shooting of Skinny ad here it is.
You seem to indicate that intent and awareness of your actions' possible results shouldn't reflect on your alignment.
I strongly dissagree.

Munny's shooting of Skinny is neutral, as it shows a total disregard for life, but isn't overly cruel. Now if he had kept on shooting the corpse, had impaled him in front of the bar or replaced his friend's corpse with his that would have crossed the line to evil.

That he unwittingly had good effects on the local populace is inconsequential, his intent was vengeance, period.

To illustrate my point better, let's say a mass murderer had lived in Berlin at the begining of the century and had unwittingly tortured and killed young Adolf Hitler while he was still building the Nazi party. One could argue he would have done humanity a great favour and prevented the rise of a horrible regime.
Still the act of killing someone for no better reason than personnal gratification is something evil, since the motive behind the action is destructive for the victim and aims only at personnal gain.
By that same token, someone who continually breaks the law (for what ever reason) can't be all that lawfull (at best he is neutral) unless he actually works by a code of conduct that opposes the generally accepted rules.
I think intent is what defines the alignment of a person and while good intention can still lead you to damnation (read harm to you and others) they can never lead you to becoming evil, especially if you try to fix what mistakes you make in good intention.

Here ends my long reply.

Oh one more hitting of the nail:

Would you say that Charles Manson's murderous actions would have been less evil if he had commited them on pimps? drug dealers? because while pimps and drug dealers usually don't think they are doing what they do for the common good I some people who whould say that murdering arbotionnists, gays, liberals, jews, palestinians, afghanis, gamers, communists, hippies, baby boomers or whatever group would be a lesser evil too. And that is the danger of the premise that you propose (if it is taken too far).
Murder is wrong, period, even the cold blooded murder of murderers is wrong.

Any act that knowingly leads to the suffering or destruction of someone else is evil.
Any act that knowingly aims to lead to the betterment of someone else's life (while avoiding inflicting suffering on others) is good.
All the rest is an area of shades of grey.

But that is in my book, I don't intend for all people to live by it (although it would simplify my existence somewhat).

Sam, are psychotic serial killers evil? Sure they usually do horrid things, but they do them often unknowingly, in a sense, of the real meaning of their actions.

If a mobster kills another mobster, you say he is doing evil by murdering someone. Since it's illegal, it's neutral or chaotic, not lawful. But maybe it was lawful as he was killing a killer, eye for an eye, which is an instinctive ideal of law. Is it evil to kill another in vengeance for the death of someone you cared about? Neutral, I think. If it was in a turfwar, then evil, for sure. If it was a matter of justice, such as because he killed innocent people, or because he was assaulting his wife, and the other mobster couldn't stand it, then possibly a good action?

This is why alingment truly sucks. It doesn't work in the real world. I would be a good evil neutral chaotic. People are just not static enough for it to work.

Mohammed, you said somewhere around here (can't find it with all of this trash in pipes) that people were neutral chaotic. I think evil chaotic is more fitting, because humans act mostly out of selfishness and greed (evil), and don't naturally work logically, or stick to their own rules to do so(chaotic).

Also Sam, If Charles Manson came to my house and killed my mom, would I be justified in shooting him? I don't know whether or not it would be right, but probably would have shot him. Just as well we never met, I suppose.

In truth, human morality doesn't make good game mechanics. I suppose we have the following as options:
1. Abolish alignment altogether and/or replace alignment with polarity or some other such thing. maybe Deity-related alignment-based spells instead work on servants of rival deities? Or maybe use elemental polarity within deitie's specified ideals?
2. Turn alignment into a hot/cold concept. Create degrees of alignment and allow it to affect spells/ abilities.
3. Ignore the severe flaws in the alignment system and just get on with the game.
Chaotically evilly yours but with the best of intentions,

Theo said:
"In truth, human morality doesn't make good game mechanics."

That about sums up my entire feeling on the subject.

To Sam, and I suppose Theo too, Munny's killing of Skinny is neutral as it was done out of vengance and not for a greater good. So I pose this question to you, and to whoever feels like answering not that I need to give you permission. If fengance for vengance's sake is neutral what would the killing done by a vigilante killer fall under? Take a character like the Punisher. He kills those he sees are a detriment to society, mobsters, drug dealers, etc. So would his killings be considered evil as they are premeditated murder or would they be considered neutral as they show a disregard for life in general or would they be considered good as they are intended to better society as a whole?

Normally I follow Theo's third school fo thought, it sucks but just go with it.

Now for my view on Frank Castle. If I had to I would consider him Neutral Good. He is a killer, plain and simple but he kills to better society outside of a system that is at best unable to deal with the problem effectively and at worst is part of the problem itself. He is still a hero in my considerstion.

Ordinarily, I don't think the result would factor in to a discussion on morality, and it's good that you raised those points, sam. I included that in my analysis as a concession to D&D, where there are such things as objective evil, but if I made it sound like that was a major factor in categorizing it as neutral, then that was a mistake. Result has some effect in some cases, but I agree that intent and knowledge are by far the most important.

I'd say the Punisher is neutral. He does it because he believes he is doing some good, but as you mention, there's a lot of evil there, too.

As long as you don't get carried away with obsessing over it as a mechanic, alignment systems are okay. Of course, I do prefer systems that don't have alignment, but in an epic fantasy world, there is a necessity for objective categorizations of good and evil.

All right, ya bums, listen up; Alignment isn't so much an integral part of game mechanics, as it is an easy way of figuring out just who's side somebody's on... Characters can be roughly lumped together in groups of alignment by how they behave. I will now demonstrate the correct way to use alignment...

Lawful good: Tells the truth, fights fairly, if at all, doesn't take drugs, does the right thing. Examples: Jesus Christ, Mahatma Ghandi, The Pope, Gandalf the White, Most Disney heroes and heroines. Very few people behave like this in real life.

Lawful nuetral: Does what is best for both parties involved, doesn't take sides, may believe 'certain' things are wrong or immoral but others are not, does the honest thing. Examples: God, Spock, The Jedi

Lawful evil: The cunning planners, people who may think about doing evil and terrible things, but rarely carry them out. Backstabbers, betrayers, but generally cerebral and non-violent, unless the situation is best served otherwise. Does what is best for themselves, and generally covers their tracks after doing something they consider reprehensible. Usually extraordinarily arrogant, and will usually reveal their evil plan to the hero just before he dies. Example: Hamlet, Any villainous character portrayed by Alan Rickman, Guildmaster Xilus from the D&D Movie, Edmund Blackadder, Dorian Gray, Gollum, Jack the Ripper

Chaotic good: People who wish to uphold goodness, but do so in an unorthodox way. They may not think things through as much as lawful good, but they will ultimately strive for goodness in the world. They are more relaxed in their attitudes than others though, allowing people to have one or two small flaws or vices. Examples: Conan the Barbarian, Nelson Mandela, Homer Simpson

Chaotic nuetral: I think that this has been wrongly labelled 'the lunatic's alignment'. I use it for most of the characters I role-play (Draw from that whatever conclusions you will). Chaotic nuetral means you're fully aware of the concepts of good and evil in the world, but you don't strongly sway to either one, or even consider that they exist in the world at all. A chaotic nuetral character will do what best suits him, to his own interests, but at the same time, may help others, if it benefits his pursuits. Examples: Wolverine, Capt. Jack Sparrow, The Cheshire Cat, The Invisible Man

Chaotic evil: Psychotic killers usually. People who simply delight in wickedness for wickedness' sake. They do not usually bother to cover their tracks, or conceal what they have done for they exalt in it. Examples include: Satan, (In my own opinion) Osama Bin Laden, Hannibal Lecter, Charles Manson.

Parallels can be drawn between a few of them, and doubtless, some will believe that some should be in different categories, but the way I see it, alignment should not be treated as hard and fast rules, just a quick, at-a-glance way to see who's wearing the white cape and who's wearing the black cape.

Frank Castle is Lawful Neutral. He kills, it's personnal and he enjoys it. He doesn't just do it for society but also for vengeance so he isn't good, but he takes care not to harm the innocents, so he's clearly not evil. If one used the hot/cold system of Monty Cook he would be considered neutral but would cross the line every few "adventures".
While he breaks the law, he does believe in rules and follows a strict code of conduct, actually in his own mind he the system no longer follows its own laws and he's decided to enforce them as he sees they should be to wage war upon those who prey on the helpless. Oh boy bad case of run on sentence here, sorry.

I think there is a difference between a psychotic and a psychopath. While some people are clearly not aware of their own actions (psychotics) and shouldn't be held responsible some just don't have the capacity to care and lack any degree of empathy (psychopaths). While I'm sure my former humanist teachers would be appaled by what I say, psychopaths are evil, the are amoral people with total disregard for other beings.
That being said, I do also agree (in RPGs and in life) that most people can be redeemed and healed given the chance and the right help (be it spiritual, medicinal or psychological).
Many of my players play exalted characters and try to redeem evil doers in my game, I find it very interesting to see them give it a try. I encourage them (at times) because I think such acts of nobility are clearly as heroic, though not as flashy, as charging the evil hordes and gutting the necromancers. It also makes for a much more interesting role playing experience when the players and their characters consider their oponents as sentient beings capable of free will, the moral compass tends not to go too hay wire then.

The trouble is that the terms psychopath, psychotic, and sociopath all refer to the same category of psychological illness, antisocial personality disorder (or AsPD).

I'd object to your simple categorization of sociopaths as evil because AsPD is no less a mental illness than schizophrenia; one of them just tends to be functional and have a better capacity for maintaining the appearance of rationality. So, while sociopaths are amoral individuals with an utter lack of regard for human life and just about anything else (fitting the D&D definition of evil quite nicely!), the fact that sociopathy is a mental illness means that it's, quite simply, not their fault: they were born that way, and by the very definition of their psychosis, they _can't_ change on their own.

Of course, in games like D&D, where it's typically good versus evil, this distinction is purely academic; who gives a crap if the necromancer was born that way? He's making an army of the undead! He's gotta be stopped, and if it means killing him, then so be it. Sociopathy may as well be put down as "really evil," since [a] as far as D&D is concerned, they're functionally the same, and [b] D&D doesn't work well with the notion that something really evil is somehow completely irresponsible for its actions. After all, if evil isn't responsible for its actions, then our Paladin friend is hamstrung.

Now widderslainte Nephandi, on the other hand? I'm sure these particular Nephandi try their best to play up this notion of a lack of culpability for in-born mental illness, as modern psychology would be rather kind to them.

And so, once they accept the fact that of course you aren't responsible for your actions, you were born this way, you never received treatment, and instead fell in with those who encouraged you to be evil... the fun begins!

Well it's pretty obvious that we are not among your every day game nerds here. Pshychology as it refers to D&D alignemnt. I love it. That's why I come here.

Alighnment is not a needed part of any game. However, if we look at the origins of D&D, we all know it' was created to be used with Minitures in a wargame type atmosphere. So, it's east to say.." that goblin is chaotic evil" and spells work on it as they do.
But as a roleplaying aid or addition to roleplaying... No. leave it aside. the basics of roleplaying and character development are that the player gets to mold his character and act the characters part.
Wrapping it up; A good roleplayer will have a character story/background, wants and ambitions, defects and more built into who that character is, and will roleplay it. A roleplayer who doesn't needs a mentor. A game system that is bound by alighnment, needs to be left on the shelf.

Thoughts on D&D alighnment;
Simple. Use it for NPC's and only for PC's in the arena of clerics and paliduns. it's really pointless to shift alighnment, but roleplay it if you want to or have to.

I just have to say a few words about the ambiguity of the alignments and Paladins. The Paladin as a class is fascinating, but alignment generally causes trouble if you wish to play one. Good and evil are rather hard to deal with even on their own, but you've also got law and chaos.

The slay-all-evil-Paladins would be crippling society if they slaughtered all the LE people, wouldn't they? Those people only exploit the rules, they support the community otherwise. They'll do exactly as required by law, in the way that benefits them the most. LE is generally not a mortal danger to anyone, and usually handle important functions in a community.

CG people, on the other hand.. These are dangerous. They'll break any rule they find unreasonable and also slaughter people they think need to die. Yet the slay-all-evil-Paladin can't touch them, since they're Good.

The real confusion comes from combining Good-Evil with Law-Chaos. Unfortunately it doesn't work, as upholding one component of your alignment may demand you ignore the other. I find the scale in Warhammer FRPG is much more useful while causing less trouble. Law-Good-Neutral-Evil-Chaos, with most ordinary people being Neutral. Not above taking advantage of situations as long as no one is hurt, positive to reasonable rules and peace. Good actively works for helping people even without personal gain, while Law want's to impose ORDER on everything for the betterment of society. Evil works for personal gain at the expense of others, while Chaos refuses to follow anyone's rules even if it means destroying society.

I could see Paladins as agents of Law or Good, not both.

What else? Priest, yes. They're supposed to uphold the dictates of their deity, not engage in philosophical discussion about why the thing they did was good or evil. If one of the ten commandments say you shall not kill there's really no excuse, is there?

The priest of a war god can't promote peace, no matter how Good he is. A bold threat of war can bring about a peaceful settlement - or result in war. Minimizing the casualties should be allowed, as long as the deity isn't Evil (and why does he have a Good priest then?). Peace is only the period between wars, the time when you build equipment and train troops.

Well while one can agree that pathologies limit to which one can exert his/her free will, this must not serve as an excuse to absolve everyone of his/her faults.
Only the most chronic cases of antisocial behaviours result from serious mental illness, most are just people who made a long series of bad life choices that made it harder and harder for them to act in acceptable ways.

Yes Chaotic Good people are the most troublesome people around. They are social activists, revolutionnaries and all those pesky free spirited people who are against globalisation and the New World Order. They are those who can't work for CNN or any other state controlled media. They get criminal records or get flagged by the FBI or RCMP or whatever for protesting against wars, polution, child labour, partheid, etc. While the Lawfull Evil banker who helps helps the mafia launder its money and helps the rich get richer by finding loopholes in the tax system gets a slap on the hand if he gets caught event though the banker costs billions a year while the anarchist might cost thousands.
But Chaotic Good people will not slaughter people, not unless their life depends on it. Slaugther is evil, so good and neutral people don't commit these actions unless they are backed into a corner.

While a priest of a god of war might not promote peace at all costs, they will not encourage needless slaughter and carnage (if good). They will encourage decisive and prompt military action as the solution to most problems, but the priests of Clageddin will not encourage a clan of dwarves to go to war against their allied neigbours for the fun of it, although they might strongly encourage them to lend a hand to their allies should any of them need help against bandits, marauders, invaders or whatever.

Speaking of the ten commandments: Thou shall not kill! Yeah right, except if it is to burn a witch, fight the moslems, the indians, the protestants, the Nazi, the Vietkong, the Soviets, etc. I think it is the one commandment the christian and jew church has least followed and had made the most excuses to bend the rules. Even killing yourself in the name of god is wrong (except when a fanatical leader asks you in which case you go straight to heaven). Yeah and the alignment system makes no sense... riiight.

An evil deity can't have good priests. But a neutral one can have good and evil priests (Kelemvor, God of Death, for example is Lawfull neutral. So he can have Lawfull (Good, Neutral and Evil) and True Neutral priests.
Worshippers are another matter altogether.

Well, at least you agree that the alignment system is open to interpretation :-)

The LE/CG part comes from the games I've seen and played. The LE characters are usually much better team members than the CG ones. Keep their word, do their part etc. The CG is just an excuse for doing as you want while keeping the option of saying you're "good". These people WILL kill stuff if they think it's needed. A paladin will try to remove the evil tyrant by lawful means, even challenging him to single combat if possible. The CG ranger will just kill the tyrant and move on. If people can't see that it was right, that's their problem.

Religion is another thing I think is funny in games. Gods that grant spells and withhold magic if you don't follow the rules means there's less room for perverting the tenets of the faith. At least as the rule books describe it. Yet players often stray with their priest characters and get away with it.

I'll just dive right in here and tell you a bit how stuff like this is (or isnt) handled in my current fave RPG, Eon (currently only available in swedish, sad but true. An English version [i]might[/i] become available sometime in the future.).

In Eon, attributes are generated with 3d6, just like in D&D. They are pretty much the same as in D&D, with the exception of the attributes Education, Sight and Hearing (and possibly more exotic senses like Infravision or Spiritsight, depending on your race.). What Eon also has, is are something called Character Traits. These too are gauged at a scale from 3-18 where 3 and 18 represent the extremes of their trait.
The traits are as follows: Loyalty, Honour, Amore (lacking a good translation), Aggression, Faith and Generosity.
These could be set out in any way the player desires or generated with 3d6, just like the attributes. The advantage with the latter method, is that you can by randomizing the traits perhaps inspire yourself to what kind of character you'd like to play. I usually roll them up for starters and fudge them a bit from there.
Now... how do they affect play? Well, usually they dont, apart from acting as guidelines, but if the player feels insecure about what would be the most in character, you can easily roll a character check (works just the same way as an ability check) and let the dice decide, or at least inspire. Or if there is a conflict between to character traits, for instance: someone tries to bribe a greedy, but loyal character to betray his friends. The player feels ambiguos about what to do, and rolls for both character traits (Loyalty and generosity in this case) with whateverever level of difficulty he thinks is appropriate (lifelong friends would make the check for loyalty very easy, and a large bribe would make the roll for generosity very diffucult) and compares the results. If he suceeds his loyalty check with a greater margin than he fails his generosity test, he might feel tempted by the money, but value his friends higher. If he actually makes his Generosity check as well as his loyalty check, he isnt really interested in the paltry sum anyway. Should he fail both rolls, he might not feel that selling his friends out woould be so bad... you can always buy new friends, or decides that his newly aquired wealth would be more beneficial to his friends, or their common cause than his treason would be harmful. And finally, say he makes his loyalty check just barely while failing his generosity test with a large margin, he decides that the money is too good for such small a favour, but will most likely try to help his friends later out of guilt, or something like that.

Then again he could just take the money and NOT betray his friends. Thats where Honour comes in. Or the player decides to make a faith check to decide wether the character thinks the dilemma is his god testing him... The possibilities are endless.

But I should stress this point again. 90% of the time, theyre just guidelines.
And it's always the players choice to roll, and wether to respect the outcome of the dice (there are of course a few exception, like going into berserk rage and such).

One houserule we use quite liberally is that (with the dm's) approval a character trait can be swapped for an attribute under certain circumstances. Like for instance, when the character above is tortured to reveal his comrades' whearabouts. Normally a willpower check would be appropriate, but due to the situation the dm judges that the player may roll for the characters loyalty instead of willpower, since even though the character is fairly weakwilled, he is fiercely loyal. Or perhaps Amore, if his true love are among those he protects.

All in all, it's a great tool to promote character play, especially for new players.

This shouldnt be too hard to implement in D&D?

Now, I'm really curious to hear what you think about this way of dealing with it. Feel free to ask questions if theres anything I need to clarify.



Amore is romance or capacity to love, if my latin is still any good after all these years.

But it seems this system leaves much of the behavioural part of the game to "roll playing" instead of role playing. Though I guess if you rolled these psychological traits which gave you guideline on how to roleplay and affected some social skill rolls...
They only make the game in swedish, no other language?

Your Latin's just fine, Sam. All the same, I think a better one-word translation would be "passion".

I dunno - Pendragon's Swedish system seems ok to me; from the sound of it, it serves more to inspire than to dictate. It doesn't become "roll-playing" unless the players depend on it to decide their every internal conflict.

I like the fact that the players are allowed to set up the character traits however they please. But I do wonder how much having statistical character traits adds to the game: if it results in better character descriptions and stronger character concepts, then it is good. Otherwise, it seems like window dressing.

Oh...dang. I owe Tra'Hari a reply or two...I swear I'll get to it soon...

Sam - Yes, only in swedish at the moment, unfortunatly. A translation has been rumored for quite a while now though.
As for "roll-playing" well, yes and now. Even if you decide to roll it a lot, it's still up to you to interpret the result with roleplaying. And do remember it's completely optional both to roll and wether to give a damn to pay heed to the result to roll. It's purely advisory.

Cocytus - One of Eon's strengths is its character generation system, since pretty much the entire character (including background) can be randomized. Of course this might occasionally lead to bizarre combinations. Now, in my opinion this is great if you really can't come up with a good character concept, and the you smooth over any irregularities with the GM.

Then again, if you have a character concept in mind, you should probably loose the randomization process and pretty much select the options in agreement with the GM.


Sam - Yes, only in swedish at the moment, unfortunatly. A translation has been rumored for quite a while now though.
As for "roll-playing" well, yes and now. Even if you decide to roll it a lot, it's still up to you to interpret the result with roleplaying. And do remember it's completely optional both to roll and wether to give a damn to pay heed to the result to roll. It's purely advisory.

Cocytus - One of Eon's strengths is its character generation system, since pretty much the entire character (including background) can be randomized. Of course this might occasionally lead to bizarre combinations. Now, in my opinion this is great if you really can't come up with a good character concept, and the you smooth over any irregularities with the GM.

Then again, if you have a character concept in mind, you should probably loose the randomization process and pretty much select the options in agreement with the GM.


Who gives a shit about Law and Chaos, anyway? What does it mean? If I detect Evil and it registers, it means kill 'em! If I detect Law, uhhhhhhh...well If I detect Chaos.......well if someone's Chaotic and Evil, then he must be a madman, and if someone's Chaotic Good then there a violent vigilante! No, that's just an Elf, and a kid at that. How can an entire culture be chaotic like the Elves or the Orcs anyway? I don't get it! You can't rebel against the tyranny of opposing tyranny, can you!?
And oh! silly me how can you be good if you try to destroy the current order ALL THE TIME in an attempt to be chaotic forever and never lose your divine spells or the ability to rage?

So, chaos is shot. At least a "racial" concept. But without an actual textbook chaotic outlook (as it can't be both textbook and chaotic) how can we define law? Does every paladin have to plan out every second of his day, so that he remains lawful!? Or maybe he has to be loyal to some master, but what if he IS the master? Are all commanders lawful? Then what about chaotic racial dieties?

In conclusion, Law and Chaos make no sense, and PEOPLE COULDN'T CARE LESS!


Will ever tried decaf? It does wonders for one's temper and still has the same great taste as regular cofee.

Jokes aside, I'm with you on racial alignments. But the ancient greeks especially the Athenians were a relatively chaotic people (as far as state affairs and marital traditions were concerned). So maybe it is possible for a working society to be somewhat chaotic.
Hey there would be no lawyers and accountants...

; )

Chill Will. S'cool bro.

I know some latin:

'Crappulanem Sum !' I think that means 'I'm wasted'

umm...... (rereads his on post).

First of all, I'd like to say that post was the result of trying to make heads or tails of how conqurering, DOMINATING villains could be CE in an example from the BoVD and coming up with FIVE different ways of trying to explain the ethical alignments with no luck.

Also, what specifically makes all lawyers and accountants lawful? And why were the Athenians chaotic, just because they were democratic and tolerant? Wow, Chaotic Good people aren't the problem after all, its bigotted, "rock and roll is of the Devil", self-righteous, elitist Lawful Good's we have to watch out for.

As a matter of fact, is someone who clearly does evil things in the name of good, good? What about someone who beleives he is evil, (and basks in the pride of that fact) but repeatly does good acts in spite of his beliefs (ie. Laharl from the game Disgaea: Hour of Darkness) still evil? Are they both neutral? I once said the Hypocrit was Lawful for seeking public acceptance, and Laharl was Chaotic, seeking noterity, as one of my 5 definitions of Enthics. Problem here is that I'm not sure how sure concepts really work with Outsiders. I mean, Modrons have no personality, and it would be stupid to say that Eladrins tried to be evil in spite of there "dripping with goodness." And Lawful Evil Devils! What a headache. Can anyone try taking a stab at Law and Chaos? The above article and posts had enough about the moral alignments, so I thought I could do a bit on disproving Law and Chaos.

I'd really like to see what other people think.

possible Comprehensions thus far:
1. Lawful: over-schedulers, clean geeks. "Gold" people Chaotic: random, spontaneous folk who are unlikely to keep tidy. "Orange" people.
2. Lawful: seeks fame. Chaotic: seek noteriety.
3. Lawful: Inflexible, fundamentalist, unlying. Chaotic: compulsive liers, artistic, tolerant.
4. Lawful: Pro-Central Government. Chaotic: Pro-Confederacy
5. Lawful: Fights fair, but prejudice(witholding rights and not harming) against women and children. Chaotic: Treats everyone the same, but uses any means neccisary to win.

All valid examples of aligned behaviour, but by no means do all like aligned people act in such narrow ways.

Why were Athenians chaotic, because the believed in a lose confederacy, had flexible laws that aimed at protecting the individual not the institutions, etc.

And athenian democracy is kind of a neutral good concept (a good compromise between order (necessary to run things efficiently) and personnal freedom of choice (chose those who will chose for you for the next x years)).

My 2 cents

I'm N/G.

Thats me, and the characters I play, which are basically me anyway.

Will; I agree. The matters of law and chaos, are severly neglected.

I boil it down to my beliefs. I believe that life is the result of random chance. Existance would never have happened were it not for the whims of chaos. Chaos existed first. Long before any beings of intelligence existed (of course you would have to believe that existance existed before intelligent beings existed). I can say this because law was created by sentient, willful beings. Law is a compilation of what intelligent races believe they should do, what codes they should follow, and how your society is governed. Therefore law is a flawed idea of an intelligent creature (or mass of intelligent creatures). Law had to have stemmed from chaos. There is no doubt in my mind.

Chaos is just that. Chaotic. Unpredictable. What if chaos (the embodiment of it, not a chaotic person), wanted to control pieces of itself? Maybe it was undulating in a way that another piece of it didn't like, or appreciate. So it would try to control it. That goes against the "laws of chaos," though. Chaos is opposed to restraint. In that paradox is where law would come from, and would explain that an intelligent being would gain the insight required to grasp the concept of law.

Were you living in an existance of sheer chaos, and were intelligent enough to realize that... You might find yourself wanting to rebel against chaos, and bring about order, that you might come to a better understanding of the world, and how to survive in it.

So in conclusion... I would say that to truely make sense of, and understand law and chaos, you would have to have a belief of their origins. Enjoy =)

(I just want to say one more thing... What I mean by "intelligent" is _not_ IQ. I mean the ability to ponder, and consider your existance. So I mean no offense to anyone.)

--Duke Bekea.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. I really hate the alignment system.

I thought I posted here recently...

I think I backed out when I realized everyone was in a heated "essay-a-thon"

Even Olly had a go at it. Anyway, the reason alignments are not good is that they raise TOO MUCH DISCUSSION!

Duke Bekea,

I know what it is old man, you've caught a chill. What you need to do is get inside, have a warm drink and sleep it off. You'll see things differently in the morning.

I owe Tra'Hari a post from the beginning of the year. I've thought about it, and re-read his (?) post above, and this is what I have to say:

The point of having a rule is for it to be a rule, not a guideline. Because alignments don't describe hard-and-fast rules very well, but rather provide guidelines, it is my opinion that they have no business being in the rules, where they can have an impact on such things as a character's ability to advance in her class.

You say you like moral ambiguity? Fine. So do I. Let's leave it out of the rules. Toss the whole alignment schema, and you've got an immensely rich field for role-play: your players can behave in *whatever manner they deem most appropriate*. Follow their consciences? Check. Have their own interpretations of right and wrong? Check. There's no need for a silly, arbitrary marriage of idealized conceptions such as "Law" and "Chaos" with "Good" and "Evil" to provide them a framework. They're people: they've seen much of the spectrum of behavior in sentient creatures.

The Palladium system is admittedly imperfect. I even call it "flawed." I provide it as a suggestion for those who want to keep alignment in the rules, but who are frustrated (as I have been) with the damnable ambiguities of the D&D alignment system. My preference is to abolish alignment entirely. Since writing this article I have run every game without using alignment, and I must say that I and my players have never been happier.

Duke Bekea said:
"So in conclusion... I would say that to truely make sense of, and understand law and chaos, you would have to have a belief of their origins."

I'm assuming you are talking about role-playing games here. Does that mean that you must also believe in dragons, elves, and vampires for them to work for you?

Personally, I'm not that keen on broad alignment systems that govern your behavior AND that designate your access to certain abilities. Such is the case in D&D, and not so much in Earthdawn, as I recall.

That said, I'm willing to suspend disbelief in that for the sake of the game, and imagine evil and good as real, palpable forces exerting their will. I enjoyed Star Wars, after all - I'm sure I can make it work in my own games.

I've found that trying to take subjective concepts, such as morality & ethics, and shove them into an objective framework (in this case rules) doesn't really work that well. In real life, "good" and "evil" is generally just "us" and "them".

I mean, it's roleplaying, not a class on comparative morality/ethics. It's one thing if you specifically want to have a "good vs evil" or similar campaign, but another thing entirely if morality/ethics isn't the main issue in your campain.

As far as alignments for use as roleplaying aids - give me the World of Darkness's nature and demeanor system, or a varient thereof any day.

(there was going to be more, but it's 4am, and i should have been asleep a LONG time ago...)


I have to disagree with your idea of the Punisher. Sure, I mean in THEORY, he's Super-nuetral. But really, Adolf Hitler believed he was doing "the right thing" himself. He thought that there would be a war between different peoples, and the Aryans would eventually defeat the lower Jewish race (and all those other people too.) This theory was based on years of crackpot Social Darwinism and Propaganda. Hitler was the most brainwashed mind in all of Europe! He saw his attempts at genocide probably (like I can ever confirm this) as saving the sons of the Master Race from dying at the hands of those they MUST eventually face by killing them now. Their was no Isreal, no offically Jewish nation at this time. They were just a scattered people in most nations.

This is not (much of) a defense of the "greatest monster in history," but if you just label him as "evil," you dehumanitize him. EVERYONE KNOWS its a horrible crime to kill another human being, but what about "a rebel?" A traitor? A criminal? A murderer? An orc? A terrorist? A nazi? A jew? "Oh, ITS just a(n) rebel/traitor/criminal/murderer/orc/terrorist/nazi/jew, its just the same as any other mistake God made." Dehumaning is ESSENTIAL for war, murder, etc. I'd be surprised to find anyone who wouldn't have trouble with the possibility that Hitler might not be burning in Hell for all eternity like the sinful, genocidal MONSTER he is.

In short, Hitler was a lot like the punisher, he was just doing things differently and looking for a different type of threat. He wasn't out for revenge, but revenge is actually a defense, more of an emotional comfinsation, if you will. And that's all Hitler convinced himself he was doing. A defense.

War is a defense of the polical powers' interests, Greed is a defense against future poverty, Petty Murder is usually a defense of the ego (which actually needs low or false self-esteem than too much, see "How to Have Confidence and Power in Dealing with People" by Les Giblin, look for it at amazon.com!) hunting animals is defense against hunger/your current quality of life/boredom/even your manihood (all depending on the nature of your motives for hunting). ANY TURMOIL IN THE WORLD IS CAUSED BY A DEFENSE. Scientists don't refree to a spider's venom as a "special attack," its a natural defense.

Hooray ! we're off subject and in a political debate. Or maybe we're on subject because Morality and Ethics and politics are sure interlinked. Anyway I'm going to enjoy this:

(1) Theres a lot been said about one game alignment system over another, and the fact that you can do without one for players altogether. I agree for players, but for the game as a whole, its essential to have an alignment system as an aid to the DM. As a DM I can define a NPC as N/G and know 90% of his behaviour without having to flesh out his character. I'm not concerned which system I choose as long as its flexible and simple. I think the D&D system is fine for my use.

(2) Nekomusume said " it's roleplaying, not a class on comparative morality/ethics." I disagree . Roleplaying and life in general is exactly that "a class on comparative morality/ethics." because otherwise its nothing but "eat, shit, sleep, what does it mean?"

(3) Will Coleman said a lot of things that made sense. Especially about the general lack of morality in politics, the dehumanising of opponents. However, I would hate for you to all take away the message that All politicians are stupid, greedy and corrupt, or that it is impossible to act in a moral way as a leader. To the contrary, there are a few, a very few examples of exemplary morality in politics. I give two examples:
(3.1) The peaceful protest by Ghandi and followers that led to the succession of India and Pakistan from the British Empire. Note this extended throughout the 2nd world war, where Ghandi refused to rebel against the British because they were engaged in a struggle against the Nazis.
(3.2) The struggle by the ANC to liberate South Africa from white minority rule. Here the ANC tried nonviolent protest until it was repressed savagely. Then they went to an armed struggle but carefully targeted to avoid civilians (this is not to say that civilians never sufferred, but the ANC tried their best to avoid civilian deaths). Finally, when they achieved a bloodless succession, rather than take revenge on the previous power, they set up a "truth nad Reconcilliation" system and included all south africans in the political process.

Please note, that in both cases the Moral response was also the response that was more logical. It led to less bloodshed, and less long term conflict. No-one really lost except that one ruling elite was replaced by another. Things generally got better.

Off the subject?? But that never happens around here.

Wait. Strike that.

Okay, well at least Ass and I didn't have anything to do with it this time.

As far as the current debate I refuse to comment as it will send me off on a rant that is not geared for this forum. This is about games, if I remember correctly.

Games ? Schmames !

Rant ! Rant ! Rave ! Gibber !

This is Therapy for the wage slave.

"This is Therapy for the wage slave."

Didn't we have another thread along those lines?

well, i've just finished reading this LOOOOOOONG thread from top to bottom and have quite a few things to say...supposing anyone is still reading this other than myself.

I'll think about it and come back

- have mercy on the newbie -

well well well...

what point do I want to make?
OK, I'll ditch the social-political discussion for now and concentrate on games!

IMHO, ethics and morality are very complicated subjects and are, to a large degree, open for interpertation and subjective. (imagine that: subjectuve subjects!).
In the context of RPGs, it is my belief that these games are (as was said before) a simulation of reality , and as such should not be bereft of social and moral dillemas. However, to facilitate playing, I think that these dillemas should be thematic and major issues in an adventure/campaign and not an integral (and annoying) part of everyday situations for the characters.
Therefore, I decided (and, of course, you must all agree...AND BOW TO ME AS YOUR RIGHTFUL LEADER...mumble, mumble...who said that? ahem) that the D&D alignment system should mostly be used AS A CRUTCH for the GM when acting out some of his thousands of NPCs. that will allow him to make quick judgment calls and behavioral concepts regarding those NPCs; and for that purpose, an alignment system must not be ambigous. In character creation (and, perhaps major NPC creation)the players (and GM) should create actual, interesting, personalities for their characters which, IMO, are better for those crunchy Goblin Baby (TM) dillemas.

To conclude, because alignments in D&D are game mechanics and (as I think you'd all agree) aren't closely related to our complicated reality, they should be used only if and when they facilitate a better (easier, more interesting or what-have-you) game. So make those Devils detect as Evil (or don't), make that emperor seem chaotic (if it's fun), but make sure the charater you're playing have an actual personality and background , so you'll what she'll do when presented with the "torture the orphans or the world gets destroyed" scenario.

that was a bit longish, wasn't it?
i hope someone still looks at this thread....

I reckon alignment could be used as a crutch for DMs, zipdrive. But I'd have to say, I don't think that's enough of a reason to include it. What DM doesn't know his own NPCs? No matter how many of them there are, I think a DM can figure out a character's motivations and personal ethos - that's part of her job as DM, even when it must sometimes be done on the fly.

Given the number of systems I've encountered that don't use alignment, I just don't think it's necessary. We've come a long way from the days of 2nd edition (remember THACO, perchance?), and an even longer way from the days of AD&D and its scores of modifiers. d20 cleaned house on all that stuff, but kept alignment. Why? I still can't answer the question to my own satisfaction.

And I've abolished alignment from my D&D games, and everyone in my group seems to be happier for it. Nobody ever wonders: gee, is this behavior within my alignment parameters? They just do what's on their minds, if they think it's in-character. Nobody says: "ah, we can kill these guys, they're evil!" They find much better reasons: "these guys burned down our town!" or "these guys killed our friends!" or "these guys are insane and are trying to summon demons!" or (the worst sin of all, apparently) "these guys stole our loot!"

I have no idea what this thread is about anymore, but I'm glad you've shown up to comment. Welcome to gamegrene! Echoes in here sometimes, doesn't it?

And as for longish posts...have you seen some of the windbag posts put up by myself and others around here?

Umm, I just like to say Vlad the Impaler is veiwed as a hero and was sainted. James bond would be a Lawful Good assassin (You can look it up in an old dragon mag). So I'd have to say, use your interpitation. Make adjustments as you play with your GM/DM, and just have fun with it:-)

hey, thanks for the encouragement.

and yes, i've seen some of the posts (or shall i say "books") around the 'grene.

anyway, I wasn't saying Alignment is a must-have mechanic, or that it improves play tremendously; just that it CAN be a useful tool. if one and one's group don't need it, don't use it. simple as that.
Even if you do decide to use alignment, I still see it more as an NPC playing aid (or atmospheric, "that blade glows with chaotic energy") and not something that should dictate a character's actions. that's what developing a personality is for.

- have mercy on the newbie -

Dragon notwithstanding, I cannot accept James Bond as Lawful Good. Sure, the lawful part makes sense (For Queen and country), but I find the good part to be a little difficult to swallow. How many times does Bond kill minions just to get past them? Not a "good" act.

I could accept Lawful Neutral.

I read a book named "Villains by Necessity" a while back and then designed an adventure around it to test the alignment idea and to get my "radar gamers" to see what it was like...

Basically, "evil" has been once and for all vanquished. No more bad guys. The heroes come to realize that this "utopia" they worked for is destined to fall apart due to stagnation, for without "evil," there is no challenge, no drive to excel and succeed against adversity...

And so, the Paladin realizes that the only "good" thing to do is to become the villain... but decides he must do so without becoming "evil." For example, he uses the wealth that he and his party have assembled over the years to buy every person out of a village and quietly move them to the far side of the continent... then he burns down his new possession and leaves no two stones upon one another... "Evil" has returned, for the village appears to have been destroyed by a "villain!" But, how to keep up the facade of "evil" as the "good guys" start hunting for the Paladin and his group??

:) Altogether, a fun time, and a great book.

Another "test" of the moral system was when I built an adventure pitting a group of "Lawful" individuals (Good and Evil together) against a ridiculously Lawful nation, whose King was so rigidly Lawful Neutral it wasn't funny... Next thing you know, the Paladin and the Assassin are agreeing that Law isn't everything... and realizing that they are both just as opposed to this application of Law as they are to the other's "morality." :)

I've read Villains by Necessity. It was fun. But I think it requires this D&D mentality that everyone has an alignment. If anything, I think some of the book's characters indict the very idea because they just aren't all that evil. On that level, the book failed for me - it was like a bunch of more-or-less nice folks with evil alignment tags. Ok, the dwarf guy steals everything. Ok, Sam's an assassin. But by their actions, they really aren't what I'd call despicable. And what about Sir Pryse? He's not evil at all, by any standard.

For me, the best part of that book was the satire of the Dragonlance adventuring party. Sam's reaction to the sexy sword-wielding chick...great stuff.

So, Sparhawk...what conclusions do you draw from your moral exercises? Does the alignment system help you, or is it really so much dross?

I've stopped playing with it, as I believe my article indicates. My games are great and I've never looked back.

None of this is new. Much the same was said way back in Dragon #101 in the "For King and Country" article by Suttie. While the examples given were a little overboard the Septemper 1985 article made the same points you did. "It's not easy being good" (Dragon #51) by Roger Moore even had an example of a Paladin getting messed up because of the alignment system but unlike Suttie Moore tries to make the clay pidgon of the alignment system fly.

If these and similar articles were not enough to show the alignment system was totally hosed go to wizard of the coast's download section http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/dnd/downloads and grab the AD&D2 Legends and Lore book. Now look under Horus and find some CHAOTIC Good Paladins.

The Alignment system was the first thing that went in my AD&D campaign (followed by the magic system - I use GURPS Magic instead) and running into mess and sillyness like this was mainly why.

Hey, that's some interesting stuff, Maximara. Thanks for the info.

I didn't have a subscription to Dragon back then - I was in 8th grade. But I'm not at all surprised to find I'm not alone in feeling this way -- hell, most of my gaming friends agree with me, and that's a tipoff enough right there. But as back-issues of Dragon don't seem to be ultra-accessible, I think this article was a decent exercise for the current generations of gamers. And it's free. =)

Thanks to the Dragon CD archive those issues are accessable again and thanks to the internet just because it is 'out of print' does not mean you cannot get it. I should mention that Michael A. Stackpole lamblated the D&D alignment system in his Pulling Report http://www.rpg.net/sites/252/quellen/stackpole/pulling_report.html never mind that nearly every month on rec.games.frp.dnd there is yet another example of the thing not working right. You would think after some 25+ yearas somebody would finally get the message.

Once again, thanks. I know some Stackpole fans who will be intrigued to read this.

One other thing - as you may note from scanning the first paragraph in my article, it was written partially in response to two other articles from this site. The issue may be settled in your mind (and it certainly is in mine), but it's not exactly dead.

Oh I saw them and I find Scorpio's position to be utterly Twilight Zone if only for the fact his examples are wrong. Wyatt Earp LG? Captain Kirk NG? Merlin, Nostradamus, and Soviet Russia LN? Good grief with examples like that he might as well shoot the argument and put it out of its misery. As for Star Wars - yes the story is filled with archtypes but as Josheph Campbell said in his Power Myth series these are not archtypes of Good and Evil but rather of much broader concepts.

Darth Vader is an example of someone living too rigidly within a system - ie LN taken to its logical extreme. He doesn't give a fig about good and evil he just wants more power. But he is also the archtype of the fallen hero who despite everything can be 'saved'

Luke is the idealist hero while Solo is the more 'realistic' one. Yet it is Luke who sees something worth saving in Vader while the supposedly more experienced Obi and Yodo have basicly written Vader off.

So while the character ar archtypes (or varieations thereof) they are not of any particular alignment as D&D uses it.

One thing that really annoys me is the hoary old chestnut about the Paladin who encounters the "helpless goblin women and children". It mystifies me that anyone would assume that goblins are just like humans complete with noncombatant females and young whose only defense is cuteness. Cuteness doesn't cut it as a defense when your parents are genetically predisposed to evil. Do ya think that maybe, just maybe, evil species might be a trifle less nurturing than peoples disposed toward a more even moral distribution or even tending to the good?

I see the young of the predominantly evil humanoids as being able to scavenge for food almost immediately and developing to maturity with uncanny speed. They aren't cowering babies whining for their milk.
They should be snarling, feral little creatures running around on all fours, looking for carrion to rip into as they grow into adult members of the tribe with tremendous speed, and scattering to the winds when Mr. Paladin shows up. If he somehow corners one, they should turn and attack.

A lot of the confusion of about how to peg various characters is of course the product of different interpretations of the character themselves and different versions of the characters themselves rather than different interpretations of the alignments as such. For example I regularly see insane people claim that Robin Hood is an LG character. That's not because they see stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, playing practical jokes on authority figures and partying like there's no tomorrow inbetween as being Lawful. It's that they, influenced by feeble latter day whitewashes of the character see him as fundamentally motivated by his deep sense of loyalty to King Richard.
But if you don't get your Robin Hood lore from Hollywood, you'll see the character a fair bit different. Same thing with James Bond. Most of the movie Bonds are indeed Lawful Good. They kill people but those people are part of conspiracies to cause enormous amounts of mayhem and are trying to kill Bond or catch him so he can be put into a deathtrap. But the real book James Bond is a far darker character.

It showed up in Roger Moore's "It's not easy being good" (Dragon #51) only it was werewolves. With lycanthropy you have a major problem as you have somebody with MPD as seen in the wolfman pictures ie Talbot going ' Please lock me up or kill me before I turn into a rampaging monster again and kill somebody.' The article basicly delt with the female and child surivors of a take out the werewolves problem mission. The Paladin knowing that there was no way to cure the poor wretchs and come next full moon they would terrorize the countryside had them painlessly executed at which point he got hosed by the alignment system because since it was daylight he had kill 'innocent' women and children.

Then you had somebody like Sailor Moon who after defeating I want to conquer the world chaotic crazies wants to turn the Earth into a Utopia by clensing everyone's evil which will have the nice side effect of her rulling the whole planet. What alignment is Sailor Moon?

Here is a related one. Rather than go down in defeat Sailor Moon's mother Queen Serenity casts a reincarnation spell which kills everybody else as well and makes everywhere but Earth uninhabatable. The artifact level magic item is the same one Sailor Moon uses and will use toe 'clense the Earth. What alignment is the artifact and Queen Serenity?

Sailor Pluto who has been standing at the time gates since the fall of the Moon Kingdom (12,000 years ago al least) and has let every horror knwo to history happen so the Moon Kingdom can be reborn as Crystal Tokyo in 21st century even going as far as pretending she cannot ever leave her station at the Time Gates. She even hides vital informaiton form her fellow sailor senshi tha twould make fighting the evil easier. What alignment is Sailor Pluto?

Over in Yugioh you have the Millenium Item which were created by slaugthering a village of 99 thieves and imprisoning their souls in the seven items. Later a Pharoah went into one of the Items to protect them but there are other less friendly spirits in the Items. What alignment are the Items and does a user's alignment change once they learn how the items gain more power (by sending more souls to the ShadowRealm domain they link to)?

It mystifies me that anyone would assume that goblins are just like humans complete with noncombatant females and young whose only defense is cuteness.

And it dismays me that so many people seem willing to write races off as "cannon fodder" and not give them a second thought. It's all an excuse to slaughter creatures while patting yourself on the back and assuring yourself that you're still "good." I understand that a lot of people like to play that way, but I don't. I prefer to develop a world where situations are complex, and where the PCs aren't always encouraged to charge into combat and start slaughtering everything they see without any sort of repercussion for their actions.

In my view, alignment is a mechanism that enables that sort of play. I'm done with it. I don't want to hear people say, "but they're an evil race!" That descriptor -- that simplistic mode of thinking -- holds no appeal to me. At my gaming table, you might have any number of reasons to get in a fight. The opponent's alignment tag is not one of them.

I did give goblins a second thought. The thing is, if you are going to have goblins be just like humans, why bother having them at all? You can run a perfectly good D&D game in which the only sentient creatures are humans. And if your nonhuman species are going to be just humans in rubber masks then there's no real point to them. Aliens should be different. They should be strange. You don't fight the goblins because they detect as Evil, or even because their children are ugly, grow up real fast and have unpleasant dispositions. You fight the goblins because they do things that other people object to.

I realize my response comes off a bit high-handed and testy, and for that I apologize.

The thing is, if you're treating goblins as more than people in rubber masks, your description of them doesn't show me that. For instance:

The party encounters a group of creatures with low technology and hunter-gatherer instincts. The males are intensely territorial, attack without provocation, and fight to the death. Maybe the craftier ones will pretend to surrender, only to turn on their captors at the first opportunity. The females are scarcely better, and the younglings eat raw flesh and scamper around like beasts, even biting and otherwise assaulting clearly superior foes without any concept of what they do.

Is this a tribe of goblins, or Paleolithic hunter-gathering humans? It seems to me, David, that you're conflating evil with savagery. In my book, they aren't the same thing at all. Remove the alignment tag, and judge the creatures by what they do. If the paladin in my campaign slaughters the children in such a circumstance -- primitive human, goblin, sasquatch, or otherwise -- I'm going to take away his paladin powers. The fact that the children are barbaric does not mean they pose any real threat to the party. They've been brought up in what they know. Does that mean they cannot be "civilized," "rehabilitated," or "shown the light"? I'd say, only if you saddle them with an alignment tag.

The trouble is that human nature is what we have to go by. Making aliens more than Star Trek aliens -- i.e., humans with funny prosthetics on their foreheads -- is a real challenge. This is a level of detail that, in my experience, the average GM (to say nothing of the average player) has neither the time nor the interest in exploring.

In one of the threads on this site, DWHoward makes a similar complaint about fantasy settings in general. He argues: in a "realistic" fantasy world with flying creatures such as pegasi and dragons, does it make sense to use castles in the medieval mode? Of course not. We do it because it's what we know. Designing the world from first principles, he says, seems too much work. I'd agree, except the challenge of making your world have depth -- acknowledging the ways it is similar and different from our own -- is a thing that is likely to pay dividends. Since we GMs are all only human, it comes down to what choices we want to make there. Is it important to give your non-humans a persuasive, alien feel, or is it important to show how your world's technology has departed from the historical one's?

I take as much care as I can to distinguish between monsters and humans. That's one reason why I winnow the bestiary of any of my campaigns down to a handful of sentient races -- more, and none of them gets the sort of attention to detail that makes a sense of its alienness possible. Even then, I find that it's easier to base demi-humans and humanoids on what I know: humans. In my current campaign, orcs are strongly based on historical steppe nomads, and elves are based on the bronze-age cultures of the British Isles. Behaviorally speaking, they're not so different from humans; they have different stats and "Special Qualities" (e.g. low-light vision), but otherwise they might be human tribes. And I suggest in my world description that there's a reason why humans, orcs, and elves can interbreed and produce viable offspring: they share a common ancestor. None of my players has yet complained that my orcs don't seem persuasive, and more than one has said that my portrayal of orcs has changed his perception of the race.

To differentiate a race further requires a lot of work: the horde book I reviewed (Maze of the Minotaur) does a good job of basing a monster's behavior on a real-life animal's. The result is a distinctive race with a set of behaviors that differentiate it from humans of almost any stripe.

What do you get from asserting that a race is "evil" as a whole? Perhaps you've got a better answer, and if so I'd honestly like to hear it. In my experience as a GM, the only reason to do that is to reassure your players that it's ok to attack a thing. And that feels like laziness to me: as I say, there are loads of good reasons to start a fight, and some arbitrary moral judgment based on an alignment tag seems like a very weak one by comparison.

In the end, character comes down to behavior. In his book Screenplay, Syd Field writes: "Character is action." I agree. My challenge to any player who comes to my table is this: don't tell me what your character's nature is. Show me. You want to play a hero? Great! I love heroes. Now prove your character's heroic nature through his/her deeds. Don't pick an alignment from a chart or a table. Don't say you're playing a Lawful Good character so you can pick up any +5 Holy Avengers you find in the dragon's hoard. Be a hero.

The alignment system doesn't help me there. If anything, I find it a hindrance. I've been playing without it in D&D for about 18 months (and in other systems, a lot longer than that), and I've never regretted my decision. Neither have my players. They're now free to play complicated people whose natures might be consistent, or might change from day to day. They seem to like that, and I know I do.

>The party encounters a group of creatures with low technology and hunter-gatherer instincts. The males are intensely territorial, attack without provocation, and fight to the death. Maybe the craftier ones will pretend to surrender, only to turn on their captors at the first opportunity. The females are scarcely better, and the younglings eat raw flesh and scamper around like beasts, even biting and otherwise assaulting clearly superior foes without any concept of what they do.

>Is this a tribe of goblins, or Paleolithic hunter-gathering humans?

Well, it is definitely not the latter. Human H-G's do not have self-sufficient young, and as a result gender roles are highly differentiated because of the need to have a heavy investment in child birth and child care. Further, H-Gs are cautious about getting into no holds barred combat because their small tribe size limits their ability to absorb and replace losses.

And of course the goblin young I described do not attack superior foes.
They run unless trapped. Anything else would keep the species from

>In one of the threads on this site, DWHoward makes a similar complaint about fantasy settings in general. He argues: in a "realistic" fantasy world with flying creatures such as pegasi and dragons, does it make sense to use castles in the medieval mode? Of course not.

I quite disagree. Given the number of ground dwelling D&D monsters threatening your peasants (not to mention conventional ground based armies), and how much easier it is to build a castle with the help of D&D magic, that castles exist is no great mystery. Small flying creatures can be discouraged with archers on the walls, while bigger ones such as dragons are _excellent_ reasons for a feudal overlord to want a solid stone roof over his head and arbalests in turrets.

Actully if you go back to the old AD&D1 DMG which gave the cost of such things the magic system did not help in castle building enough to make a practical dent. And the reason is simple - for every spell that would castle make construction easier there is a spells of equal or lesser level which would make bringing down such a fortress down easier. Also if you really look at the D&D spell list while there is a lot of combat spells stuff there there is very little in the way of 'build it" magic there.

Human H-G's do not have self-sufficient young, and as a result gender roles are highly differentiated because of the need to have a heavy investment in child birth and child care.

Realistically, no creature with a cranial size comparable to a human's is going to lack these qualities. The "nurturing" instinct you seem to want as a differentiator between "good/neutral" and "evil" races is not a moral quality, but a biological imperative.

Anything else would keep the species from surviving.

And this is what it comes down to. "Evil" races do not seem to me to have the qualities necessary for their own survival.

Both of which points are tangential to the main issue: what's the difference between "Evil" and "savage," in your mind? What benefit do you obtain from giving a sentient, living* race the "Evil" alignment tag? What does it get you that you couldn't have without it?

*I can see the point in giving extra-planar or undead monsters this tag, sort of, but again there's nothing about the alignment tag that is necessary. Their behavior/monster description serves the same purpose, but better.

I quite disagree.

Well, you're entitled to that opinion, but dragons are only the beginning of the argument, not the end of it. A stone castle was the pinnacle of defensive technology in the high middle ages. In a fantasy world with scrying, teleportation, levitation, burrowing monsters, and dimensional phasing, it wouldn't be. Castles would exist, yes, but anyone who could afford better would have something else. And it's hard to imagine what that something else would be: people just say "Oh, the castle would have magical defenses" and assume that the issue is settled. But that's not a persuasive argument to me; it's just tacking magic onto the middle ages without considering its impact.

DWHoward's point was that, when you start to consider how the presence of magic and monsters would change the world, the differences are huge, and would spur trends in development that would make the world very different from our own - a lot of the technological developments of our history were driven by necessity, and the presence of magic skews that equation. The point is not that it's not fun to play quasi-medieval "high fantasy," the point is that almost nobody gives much thought to the considerations of a fantasy world.

>Realistically, no creature with a cranial size comparable to a human's is going to lack these qualities. The "nurturing" instinct you seem to want as a differentiator between "good/neutral" and "evil" races is not a moral quality, but a biological imperative.

Of course it is. What else would incline an entire species toward evil moral choices except biological imperatives of one sort or another? But this idea that every large craniumed creature has to think like humans regardless of their reproductive strategies and glandular makeup seems a bit narrow.

>And this is what it comes down to. "Evil" races do not seem to me to have the qualities necessary for their own survival.

Nothing about being Evil keeps you from running away from something bigger and more dangerous than you are.

>Both of which points are tangential to the main issue: what's the difference between "Evil" and "savage," in your mind?

"savage" implies a lack of restraint, planning and forethought, all of which aren't incompatible with Evil. Evil is cruel, not necessarily savage.

>middle ages. In a fantasy world with scrying, teleportation, levitation, burrowing monsters, and dimensional phasing, it wouldn't be. Castles would exist, yes, but anyone who could afford better would have something else. And it's hard to imagine what that something else would be:

I would suggest that it would be things like flying fortresses to avoid
digging creatures, pocket universes, palaces at the bottom of large lakes with "breathe water" spells allowing the inhabitants to live, and of course magical barriers to intrusion.

The problem is there just don,t seem to be the spells to make things like flying fortresses or underwater palaces practical. Of course D&D has long had a logic problem - its economics was totally loopy back in the AD&D1 days (1500 gp/week/level for 1-4 weeks to increase in level) and has not improved that much, drows who live underground are so dark skinned that for a while AD&D2 illistrators were drawing them like extras in Shaka Zula, and other things that should change the world don't. So is no surprise that D&DD equates saveragy with 'evil'.

But this idea that every large craniumed creature has to think like humans regardless of their reproductive strategies and glandular makeup seems a bit narrow.

I'm not saying they must think like humans, I'm saying they're subject to the same biological requirements.

In order to develop a large brain in the first place, the embryonic creature in question must receive an extremely high-nutrient diet from its mother's umbilicus.

Furthermore, there's a maximum point a newborn's skull size can reach and still allow the mother to walk on two legs. The result of this simple fact is that a large-brained creature must treble or (in the case of humans) quadruple the size of its brain between birth and adulthood. A large-craniumed biped can't be born with a self-sufficient, fully formed brain: it's physically impossible, according to my understanding. That's why humans are helpless as infants, and this produces the "nurturing" effect and division of labor by gender you describe.

I don't think it's "realistic" (and yes, I do feel like a bozo using that word in a fantasy context) to assert that humanoids don't have nurturing instincts/cycles. The goblins you describe would not be able to develop much more than animal-level intelligence, and certainly wouldn't be tool-users on the level of fantasy humanoids.

But again, that's all pedantic window-dressing for the real point; you and I can likely argue paleontology until we're blue in the face, and I doubt you're any more a paleontologist than I am. My problem is that you seem to be taking the "evil" tag as an a priori assumption and working backward to rationalize it. Why? What does it get you?

My overarching question here is: why bother with alignments at all? It seems to me that everything alignment gets you can be achieved another way, and better because it restricts neither your conception of "monstrous" races nor the players' conception of their own characters. In my experience, interesting moral components of character are self-imposed, not systemically imposed.

>But again, that's all pedantic window-dressing for the real point; you and I can likely argue paleontology until we're blue in the face, and I doubt you're any more a paleontologist than I am. My problem is that you seem to be taking the "evil" tag as an a priori assumption and working backward to rationalize it. Why? What does it get you?

In my roleplaying gaming, I value the exotic much more than the mundane, particularly when it has been painstakingly rationalised. When I see the chaotic evil tag put on a species, I find it much more interesting to think about how a species where the typical member has
those personality traits could function, what biological (or pseudobiological) and cultural traits would produce and compensate for those personalities and how they would manifest in practise, rather than just automatically rejecting the tag and assuming that they are just like humans, only with funny looking faces and night vision. I want to see things that are strange and different, not just the same old familiar stuff. That's what I get out of it. That's why in superhero games I like the old random generation systems from things like V&V and Marvel Superheroes, because by rolling randomly I'll come up with concepts far more unfamiliar and therefore more interesting than anything I'd imagine up for myself in a design driven game.

>It showed up in Roger Moore's "It's not easy being good" (Dragon #51) only it was werewolves. With lycanthropy you have a major problem as you have somebody with MPD as seen in the wolfman pictures ie Talbot going '

But...that's nonsense. There's no way all those noncombatants would survive being mauled by an out of control werewolf. The situation is impossible even ignoring that D&D's standard werewolves don't have MPD.
In any case with the current rules, the problem doesn't arise. Assuming such an absurd situation arises, the Paladin does his killing and since he did it out of LG motives rather than for reasons like fun or to increase his power, it has no bearing on his alignment.

>Here is a related one. Rather than go down in defeat Sailor Moon's mother Queen Serenity casts a reincarnation spell which kills everybody else as well and makes everywhere but Earth uninhabatable. The artifact level magic item is the same one Sailor Moon uses and will use toe 'clense the Earth. What alignment is the artifact and Queen Serenity?

LG. So...what's the problem?

If alignments help you develop interesting, creative monster concepts, then I salute you -- really. I'm not on a crusade.

It has simply been my experience that alignment is a limiting factor on roleplay. Little else about D&D has so confined the imaginations of the GMs and players I've known as this mechanic, and little else has produced so many arguments.

Finally, at the risk of pummeling a horse carcass into the dirt, there's nothing about the alignment system that you couldn't have without it. Fascinating creature concepts exist in plenty of systems (I'm thinking especially of Skyrealms of Jorune) that don't use any alignment system at all. It's worth noting, I think, that the vast majority of all RP systems do not use alignment.

LG. So...what's the problem?

Seriously? That's a perfectly good example of how different perspectives can knock the alignment system all out of whack. Two different observers might interpret those events in vastly different ways, according to their personal moral values.

When you can't move the same perception of alignment from one GM's table to another's, you have a broken/useless mechanic.

This is a problem I've seen over and over and over again with alignment. If it's useful to you, enjoy. For my part, I'm enjoying my freedom from it.

Dead horse, eh?

I've always used alignments for guidelines, but not absolutes. It's good to know, for example, that devils are lawful and demons are chaotic -- it helps distinguish these two types of fiends.

But, I like to think there is the odd demon that is lawful...and maybe a few devils that are chaotic. And so on.

The only real danger with alignments is the same danger with any rule...and that is if you abuse it, it stands to ruin the game.

I don't make my player do alignment checks. And I don't slap the wizard on the wrist when he does something wrong, even if his alignment is "good." But, I don't think it's wrong to say that a character or a race of creatures had a tendancy towards chaotic neutral, for example.

I think it's only limiting to the imagination if too much focus is put on it. And a stubborn rules lawyer who won't make a chaotic good orc because it "goes against the rules" is probably not worth playing with anyway. I think this is more of a Legacy Fear than anything else...folks remember all those older, nerdy guys that played D&D in 1985 and use that as the benchmark of what D&D is like...and that includes alignments, and tearing up character sheets of dead PC's, and the uber quest to kill Tiamat and so forth -- I'm not saying that you, Cocytus, have this mentality...I just know and have known some folks that steer clear of D&D because of all the sterotypes that seem to have died when all the Hair Bands gave way to Grunge. The way I played D&D in 1988 and today are *drastically* different.

And, sure, alignments don't really exist in most other games...but, well, it's kinda nice that D&D still has *something* that distinguishes it from the rest of the world.

It isn't quite true that there's nothing about the alignment system that you couldn't have without it. At least there's something that you couldn't have without some kind of alignment system. What you could not have without an alignment system is a "Protection from Evil" spell. This may strike you as a small loss, but there are some very significant fantasy works that you can not emulate without such spells and without magic items that have distinct effects on people trying to use them depending on whether said person is aligned for or against said items. Witch World, for example. Moorcock's stuff.

What you could not have without an alignment system is a "Protection from Evil" spell.

Even that's not true, and I address this issue in my rant. I'm running a D&D campaign right now, and I've replaced Protection from Evil with Protection from [Creature Type]. As standard D&D has four variants (Chaos, Law, Evil, Good), I have about twelve (humanoids, giants, outsiders, undead, etc.). It works quite nicely.

Moorcock's stuff.

I'm not familiar with Witch World, but I am something of an Andre Norton fan. Moorcock, however, I know very well indeed. To that I would say:

  1. Moorcock's alignment is both simpler and less arbitrary than the D&D system, and directly ties to the cosmology; and
  2. Moorcock's paradigm enhances the setting. Understanding the struggle between Chaos and Law, and recognizing that it is not particularly desirable for either to prevail, is key to understanding the setting. D&D's alignment system seems tacked-on by comparison.

I appreciate that, RG, but I think gamers could move from my table to yours (and vice versa, I hope) without too much confusion. As you're not pointing a finger at me, nor am I pointing one at you. Those who can be flexible and fair with alignment are those who make it work...to the extent that I feel it does work.

All the same, there are built-in mechanics (spells, magic items, etc) that make the player's choice of alignment significant, and it seems to me more significant than something that is just a guideline should be. That's more true in 3e+ than in the 2e rules you use, but it's still true.

True Faith in GURPS performs like "Protection from Evil" and there are spells that do the same thing. And GURPS has no alignment system.

>> So...what's the problem?

>Seriously? That's a perfectly good example of how different perspectives can knock the alignment system all out of whack.

I don't see how. I mean if there was a rule saying that LG characters can't do bad things then you'd have to argue about whether or not that qualified as a bad thing, but there is no such rule so it isn't an issue. If you think that it is a bad thing that she kicked over the game board rather than concede the game, so be it. She's an LG character who did a bad thing. No isolated action, however heinous or benevolent it might be, can define any character's alignment. So there are no implications for the alignment system that an LG character did something that some people might disagree with. And yes, that means that if you slaughter the nursery of helpless cute little goblin infants, it doesn't mean that you aren't Good. It means you are a Good person who did a bad thing.

>Even that's not true, and I address this issue in my rant. I'm running a D&D campaign right now, and I've replaced Protection from Evil with Protection from [Creature Type].

Confirming my statement that you can't do a "Protection from Evil" spell without Evil. A "Protection from Outsiders" spell is NOT a "Protection from Evil" spell. It isn't even close to being a Protection from Evil spell. A spell that repells angels just as much devils is so very much not a Protection from Evil spell that I am baffled that you claim it isn't true that you lose that spell without Evil.

>True Faith in GURPS performs like "Protection from Evil" and there are spells that do the same thing. And GURPS has no alignment system.

GURPS has several different alignment systems depending on which game world you happen to be speaking of. For example "True Faith" is based on Christian mythology. In any world that has it, you have already automatically created at least two sides to align with, the side with True Faith and the forces of "evil".

Actually "True Faith" is based on several different mythologies not just the Christian mythology. Of course using a varient of Suttie's article as an example a Protestant and Catholic Paladin could use True Faith against each other because "To each paladin, the other would seem to be an anti-paladin, a fanatical pagan intent on the desecration of all that is right and pure." (Dragon #101, pg 22) There is simply no way to do that in D&D and have one paladin have his full powers usable against the other paladin.

Mechanically, it's the same. You're strapped into an alignment system where angels and devils must always behave according to their paradigm. I'm not. I can have fallen angels and misfit demons if I want. I'm not saying that I do, but I could.

In point of fact, I don't use either concept. You say you want something new, something that hasn't been seen before, something that is exotic?

Angels and devils, huh? Um...I'm with you on the exotic page, anyway.

In my campaign, most outsiders are hostile to mortal life. A few aren't, but they're still dangerous. Protection from Outsiders serves the exact same function that Protection from Evil serves in the average D&D campaign, only I think it's better because it's more flexible, and therefore less confining to my players.

Finally, I do use a base-polarity concept for the campaign, which is distantly akin to the Chaos/Law dichotomy from Moorcock. Some creatures (esp. paladins and clerics) radiate what I call holy light, and some creatures radiate its opposite, which I call "taint." I've replaced the upper-level alignment-based spells such as Holy Word with spells that affect one or the other of these poles. These spells aren't very useful in my campaign, as they affect a very narrow range of creatures. That narrowness is intentional on my part: I don't want people depending on "alignment"-based magic to do their dirty work.

I don't believe in absolute "good" and "evil" as it is portrayed in D&D, and I don't have any interest in putting those concepts in my campaign. The Moorcockian Law/Chaos thing is very interesting in the Eternal Champion universes, but I feel it is both misunderstood (badly!) and out of place in D&D. The mutant offspring of these two concepts - the alignment table of 9 alignment possibilities - just strikes me as silly most of the time. I'm not saying fun can't be had with it, but I feel it's more trouble than it's worth.

Again, I'm not a crusader. If it works for you, cheers.

And you don't see how your interpretation could create problems for people moving from one table to another? Some DMs would consider certain isolated actions to be enough to warrant an alignment change. You don't. So if a player at your table moves to a table where the DM will penalize you or even change your alignment for a single action that is inconsistent with your alignment, that player is going to have a problem.

Where do you draw the line? What sorts of behavior are enough to warrant an alignment change? And more importantly, why do the rules leave this concept dangling in the wind?

Different people interpret the alignment system differently, and that that can cause problems for players. Period. I'm not speaking hypothetically. I've experienced many problems with this rule and the varying interpretations of it. Even if your particular interpretation is one I might agree with, it isn't consistent across all gaming tables -- and I consider that a problem.

Don't miss the fundamental point here: the problem is not with the concept of alignment or alignment paradigms in general, but with D&D alignments in specific. Two sides are not nine. Law vs. Chaos in Elric? Fun, setting enriching, easy to understand. Nine alignments? Hokey, arbitrary, problematic.

f course using a varient of Suttie's article as an example a Protestant and Catholic Paladin could use True Faith against each other because "To each paladin, the other would seem to be an anti-paladin, a fanatical pagan intent on the desecration of all that is right and pure."

"Two men say they're Jesus. One of them must be wrong".

At least one of them. If either of them is wrong in his religious beliefs than their faith is hardly true. In fact that's one of the things that makes Suttie's article stupid.

>Two sides are not nine. Law vs. Chaos in Elric? Fun, setting enriching, easy to understand. Nine alignments? Hokey, arbitrary, problematic.

Oh, is that the problem? Too many options? The eight-fold path was of course intended to produce a wider range of options for GMs (and to a lesser extent, players) and to discourage a monolithic "us versus them"
mentality being the automatic default. I don't see how it is any more arbitrary than a dualistic universe, but then I live in a country with 4 significant political parties.

More importantly the actual _rules_ for the current edition of D&D say that a single action isn't enough to force an alignment shift. It is not just a matter of my personal opinion of the right way to run things. If gms use houserules that screw things up, that is not the fault of the official game mechanic, and if gms use rules that are two or more editions out of date, that isn't the fault of the current rules set either.

And I'm mystified that you use the expression "even change your alignment". So your alignment changes. So what? For anyone playing a core class (which is to say, Rogue, Fighter, Cleric, Magic User), this has no significant consequences. You may be more vulnerable to or less able to use certain magics, but that is balanced with being less vulnerable to and more able to use certain other magics. For the others, you took a restriction on your personality as a tradeoff for extra power. The problem is not alignment, it is choosing a class that comes with extra junk, good and bad.

Oh, and you may want to argue about the Cleric, but you'd be wrong. The Cleric is not penalised for changing alignment. He's penalised for pissing off his god and he can instantly negate that penalty just by switching gods to one more inclined to tolerate his crap.

I don't really believe an angel who has abandoned his side still qualifies as one. He may have his former appearance and most or all of his former powers, but angels are not defined by what they look like or what tricks they can perform. And no they don't have to "always" behave according to their alignment by the alignment rules. It's just that if they mostly behave as if they are some other alignment, then it's time for the GM to consider whether they are in fact that other alignment.

"To keep True Faith you must behave in a manner consistant with your religion. [...] A viloent bigot or a religious terrorist can be just as sincere in his religious devotion as a saintly ascetic." (GURPS 4e Basic Set pg 94) Note True Faith says nothing about if your belief is correct which is the lynchpin of your counter arguement. A related limitation is Pact (which is built into True Faith)

One of the X-men comics back in the late 1980's delt with this. Kitty Pryde (who is Jewish) tries to ward off Dracula with a cross and is grabbed by the neck at which point the Star of David around her neck burns Dracula's hand and he lets her go. Logan (who as far as I know doesn't believe in squat) shows up makes a cross sign and Dracula laughes in his face at which point Kurk Wagner (devout Roman Chatholic) shows up, picks up the cross Kitty dropped and proceeds to give Dracula a bad day.

Another example of how True Faith really works can be seen in the Doctor Who story Curse of Fenric where Ace has such True Faith in the Doctor that it keeps one set of creatures at bay. To allow this creature to get at Fenric the Doctor proceeds to plant doubts in Ace's mind destroying her True Faith.

This should not be confuced with the old 3rd edition Bane disadvantage which is seen in The Fearless Vampire Hunters (1967) where only the religious symbol that the vampire held sacred in life can hold him at bay regardless of what religion its holder believes in.

True Faith is dependent on belief. In GURPS 4e High priest of Lolth can have True Faith or simply have a Pact which give her all the abilities of a D&D Paladin. In D&D itself because of the alignment system is set up such a thing can never happen.

Not too many options, David. It's an arbitrary scheme: people who loved both Tolkien (Good vs. Evil) and Moorcock (Law vs. Chaos) wanted to cross-reference them on an alignment table. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

30 years later, as people argue about the distinction between two totally arbitrary alignments - say, Chaotic Good vs. Chaotic Neutral - it seems like less of a good idea.

Let's agree to disagree, eh? You're never going to convince me that the D&D alignment system is either workable or desirable, and I'm apparently not going to convince you to abandon it.

I've played with it too long, and I've seen a lot of GMs run it a lot of different ways. I think it's broken, and as I say in my rant, I'm astonished it made it into 3d Ed, where so many other broken rules got fixed.

But I don't want to turn this into a ping-pong match between us. After a while, as Morbus says, arguments degenerate into "the hell you say, Hobo," without any meaningful content. I think this one is getting perilously close.

I hear what yer sayin' Cocytus...I think.

Thing is, I'm not as well versed in 3E as you -- alignments might be more significant in 3E than 2E...I honestly don't know...I've read a lot of 3E source books, but never the player's handbook nor the DMG -- some folks think I'm crazy.

Personally, I still think it's one of those things that gets overblown by those who have either abused it or seen it abused too much.

My use of alignments is generic enough that your group and mine probably could inter-mix without any confusion. I think it's a handy tool, but not a necessary one and certainly not the focus of any given game.

For what it's worth, my spin on spells such as Know Alignment reveals the general dispostion of a character -- I never say "oh, he's lawful evil," rather I try to describe certain aspects that gravitate towards a lawful evil guy -- mean, surly, disciplined, patient, cautious, vengeful...ya get the idea.

It's certainly a preference thing, tho. I like to use it...but not over-use it. But, then, I'm not a fan of random encounters...and some DM's are.

I stopped using random encounters as a result of an article I read on this site. I love gamegrene.

The argument has been going on a long time and the D&D alignment system like all belief systems brings along its own assorted baggage. People still equate Chaotic to not follow 'laws' Pirates for example were often labled as CE but in GURPS terms they can have a Code of Honor which in D&D terms is a Lawful trait. In fact in the Age of Sail pirates had what was known as Articles which determined everything from the share of the booty to how offenders of the Articles were punished and these were all geared to ensuring the wellfare of the crew as a whole - again a Lawful trait.
The alignment dog has never hunted very well and it time to bury the thing.

Pirates are often labelled as CE because the stereotype of pirates doesn't match the historical reality. It's that simple.

More importantly the actual _rules_ for the current edition of D&D say that a single action isn't enough to force an alignment shift. It is not just a matter of my personal opinion of the right way to run things.

Just for the record, I must contest this statement. I've got them open here in front of me. I refer you to PHB:103-106 and DMG:134. Would you care to show me where it says that?

The DMG says alignment change is "usually" gradual...however, it also says "There are exceptions to all of the above...it's possible (although unlikely) that the most horrible neutral evil villain has a sudden and dramatic change of heart and immediately becomes neutral good."

I'm sorry, David. I really don't want to turn this into a rules-lawyering argument. But I just re-read the rules to see if you were right about this, and all I found was the same maddening ambiguity. The whole thing's played as a guideline, which is (in my opinon, of course) perfectly ludicrous given some of the magical consequences (just to pick one set of consequences) attendant to alignment. It all comes down to a GM, not a player, judgment call. Looking at these rules, I think different GMs are justified in making wildly different judgment calls. If you're looking here for some kind of systemic bedrock, it's absent.

I understand you feel strongly about this, but please don't take this attitude that anyone who doesn't see it your way is mishandling the rules. I don't think they are. The rules are just not clear on this point, and they seem deliberately to have been written that way.

Heh. I'd say the problem is more that alignments don't match reality. =)

Okay, I'm done baiting you now. Seriously. It's a fun game, a good site. Enjoy.

Actaully the LG Robin Hood is based on Sir John de Evill (or Sire Johannes d'Eyvile int he English of the day) who rebelled against Henry III because said king ignored the Provisions of Oxford for which he was declaired outlaw. As quick trip to Usenet whill show this is likely where Sheriff of Nottingham became part of the Robin Hood. Also if you watch Terry Jones Medieval Lives you realize that our view of historical figures is no always an accurate one. Take Richard I, II and III for example - usially portaid as LG, CN(E), and LE respectively but when you look at them those views quickly fall apart and you are left with very different people from who you thought you knew.

But you see, I don't necessarily want magic that works against whatever the character in his deluded ravings thinks are evil. There may be no such thing as objective evil in the real world, but isn't the point of a fantasy roleplaying game to not be limited by the distasteful realities of reality?

True Faith does not have to be magical as was clear given the Curse of Fenric example. Also SJG In Nomine (for which there is a GURPS version) deal with the ultimate battle of 'good' and 'evil' - Heaven vs Hell and it uses no alignment system. A Very Nybbas Christmas at http://e23.sjgames.com/samples.html is a sample adventure in the In Nomine setting. I might add that the popular Ravenloft setting strips the alignment system while adding new dangers in the process.

Alignments don't exist to match reality. They exist to match fantasy.

The noncombatants were themselves werewolves which was the point. This is begining to remind me fo the usenet where the defenders of the alignemnt system go off on one little point and forget here is the rest of the post to read through. But back to the point. Once you get reid of alignment you can have paladins power by a deity (which makes more sense) and you get rid of allt eh kludges that have been applied to the Outer Planes so beings with the same alignment don't do Pinky and the Brain imitations and all the little benieth the top plane transport systems so plane that were part of one mythology but are no scattered all overe the place are still connected.

By calling the Silver Crystal and Queen Serenity LG you have the royal headake of how could a LG person slaughter millions if not billions of innocent people just so her daughter and inner guard would reincarnate thousands of years later.

By Ommar's Razor the alignment system is a bust.

phew! that was a heated, well thought-out debate.
maybe this one will accompany us in the next 30 years? what do you say? a post a month?

i have always employed a simple point system to handle this problem. it goes something like this:
Good: 10+
Neutral: between 9 and 0, and between 0 and -9
Evil: -10 and under

and of corse, for the other half of the character's alignment:
Law: 10+
Neutral: between 9 and 0, and between 0 and -9
Chaos: -10 and under
as i'm sure you notice, neutral has a great range, as most people are capable of both good and evil but don't fall under eather. the same goes for the law chaos scale also.
changes to alignment were never punished in my games, except for as stated in the chahacter's class (don't get me started on the assassin problem...)
alignment changes by 1-3 points depending on the action. for example, lets look at the good v.s. evil scale:
+1: a small act of good not requireing an expence other than time, and puts the character in no danger. "Tordec is chilling in the inn when he sees a cripple who is having a hard time getting up the stairs due to leg injurys. being a character with a high str, tordec walks up, hoists the poor man over his shoulder and carts him upstairs" this act diden't cost tordec anything other than time, but was a good act none the less, and tordec's soul becomes slightly purer for doing it.
+2: a medium act of good that costs a character slightly or puts him in a slight amount of danger. this includes the casting of level 5 or lower spells to assist another. for example, "Tordec walks through town and sees another cripple. this one was blinded and sits on the corner of the street with a cup in his hands. tordec walks up and drops a few gold from his buldging coinpurse into the cripple's cup." this costed him little but helped the begger immensly. another example would be: "Mialee walks out of the magic shop, her voracous apatite for shopping more or less sated, and her obsession with new ways to burn, garrot, and otherwise obliterate foes under control again as well. about a block away, she hears yelling and crying. she runs to investigate and finds a young boy being savagly beaten by 5 other children. she runs up and casts a minor illusion to scare off the children and helps the battered boy to his feet." this cost Mialee very little (the illusion was a level 1 spell with no components) and put her in slight danger (one of the kids could have pulled a wand of lighting bolt and zapped her before running off) mialee's soul becomes deciantly purer for this act, and her alignment shifts slightly to reflect this.
+3: an act of good that costs greatly, or puts the character in grave danger, or a spell higher than level 5 cast to aid another. example: "Tordec finally recoveres from his hangover and departs for his next objective. after a day's ride, he comes upon a small village under attack by an orcish raiding party. a good 20 orcs strong, this poses a serious threat to tordec (tordec is level 5...)
without regard for his safety, tordec gives a great battlecry and charges into the battle." having been willing to throw his life down to save the village (the same applys to a character trying to save the world) makes tordec's soul significantly purer, and his alignment changes to show this. another example; "Mialee humms as she walks to her favorite magic shop again. her mind filled with visions of the scrolls and baubles of mass destruction she can buy with the payout from the adventure she just returned from. on the way she sees the blind begger (now wrapped in a nice new blanket thanks to tordec) she walks up to him and says "you poor thing, go get a good meal and hire a servant or two" as she unties her coinpurse, fat with platnum, and puts it in the blind man's hand."
this was a great act of charity and the same things happen to her as happened to tordec.
-1: an act evil that does minor damage to a noncombatant. example; "Krusk is angry because he lost alot of money in a game of shells. as he walks up the stairs to his room, the cripple hobbles by on his crutches. Krusk puts his foot out and trips up the poor mans good leg. as the man tumbles to the ground, Krusk guffaws and says "watch where you going little cripple"
-2: a moderate act of evil that hurts a noncombatant serevly. for example; "Dagus the cleric of weejas (heh heh, Weejas) rides into town looking for the man who owes him money. he finds the decrepid old man in an ally passed out from too much mead. Dagus wrights a note saying something like "pay me or i'll take a more important digit next time" Dagus tuckes the note into the man's trousers and draws a dagger. he takes the man's hand and cuts off his index finger. feeling satified that he has made his point abundantly clear, Dagus rides away to partake of more devilish fun." Dagus caused immense pain and lasting damage to the man, and his soul is more corrupt for it. his alignment shifts to reflect this.
-3: a great act of evil that does great lasting mental or physical damage to anyone, or killing a noncombatant. this was a hard one, but i feel that lumping jeffrey dawmer (yes, yes, i know. i misspelled that name really bad.) and hitler into the same catagory of evil works because they both did the same evil (in respect to the killing. they both commited other evils but that isen't the point here.) one just did it on a grander scale.
example; "Krusk is feeling happly tipsy after a long drinking benge following a good day of pillaging a nearby elvin village. he staggers over to the holding cells his tribe use to contain slaves from such raids. he walks over to the cell of a voluptious young elven maid and mutters "heheh, you'll do." her green almound eyes widen in terror as he opens the gate and staggers over to satisfy his savage desires." this is probebly the worst form of torture one can inflict upon another, and Krusk's soul becomes rightfully corrupted a great deal. his alignment changes to match the effect this atrosity has upon his soul.
i'm not going to get into the law chaos slide here, i think you get the point. i also have examples of actions that affect both the good/evil and law/chaos slides at once, but you'll have to buy my campain setting when its done to get those. i'll use better examples (without the DnD example charas...) as well.
i like this system because it shows the player just where his character stands based upon his actions, and ensures that alignment changes are slow processes that involve direct influnce from the chara's actions. it also makes it a little easier to play a neutral chara as you can balance actions. it also makes it easier to find out how your DM stands on these issues before they affect too drastic a change on your chara.
inregards to pallys and clerics, disobaying ethos still results in a loss of abilitys, or restriction of advancement. for acts not covered in the ethos, i always said that an act resulting in more than a -1 change means a loss of ability as well as dropping below 10 on eather slide.
Lemme know what you guys think please. this has worked very well in my games, but without more input i won't know if this system fits other dms' playing styles.

If your players know what to expect, and you are consistent in your rulings, it seems like a solid system. You've certainly put a lot of thought into it.

For me, it's a wee bit too much bookkeeping about a constraint I don't care about enough to use (hence the article), let alone graph. I've found that abolishing alignment improved my D&D games immensely.

But don't let me rain on your parade. If it works for you and you have fun with it, well done!

Well the alignment issue has popped up yet again on rec.games.frp.dnd and the freewheeling effort to salvage a ssytem built on sand is off again. Personally I prefer GURPS where you have a 'frequency of subbmission' roll that tells you how often you will give into be greedy, a letcher, a sadist, etc.

Give me GURPS where at least you have an impartial mechanic to resolve disputes.

Salvage implies an attempt to work what was broken. The rgfd discussion is an attempt to demonstrate that there is no break in the first place... to an individual who persists in rehashing the same old points, and making vague gestures at the same old articles (including this one.)

As for me... I prefer systems where the dice don't take over how I play my character. But then, I guess you do need to bludgeon in some kind of counterbalance when you use a point-based system and give extra points (ie power) for including personality in your character.

In some roleplaying games the characters can become the structure, not the story or the rules. Alignments - like this excellent article describes - are an example of a rule structure that can adversely affect the story and character.

"I prefer systems where the dice don't take over how I play my character. But then, I guess you do need to bludgeon in some kind of counterbalance when you use a point-based system and give extra points (ie power) for including personality in your character."

That's the point isn't it -- the only truly flexible role-playing medium has to eliminate the notion that the game must be balanced. Systems written in a way to avoid abuse often include rules that interfere with story and character.

Wamyc on WotC on boards http://boards1.wizards.com/showpost.php?p=7169608&postcount=1 shows that there are other with issues with alignment. Whatever use it had in the past is overshadowed by the problems it creates. Wamyc evne accepts that alignment is poor for fictional character the very thing that triggered the current thread ('What alignment is Gandalf?')

The fact is the alignment sacred cow need to be put out of everybody's elses and its misery.

Except they don't even patch that. Take the fantasy world in the Incarnation of Immortality series. To the concepts of Good and Evil match those of D&D? No. Do the Gold Dragons in the Slayers Try anime fit the LG label of D&D given they have commited genocide against the Ancient Dragons simple because they were afraid of a magical weapon the ancients had captured? No.

There are many other examples in fantasy that do NOT fit D&D alignments so the claim that 'alignments exist to model fantasy' can be shown to be that much handwaving.

"[M]any players feel quite justified in pursuing a high fantasy brand of instant justice."

Which is exactly what the game is designed to have them do. This is "working as intended." D&D is a high fantasy game of killing things.

The reason radar gaming is possible is because it's intended to work that way. It's supposed to bypass moral dilemmas. If creatures detect as "evil", it's objective proof that they "debase or destroy innocent life, whether for fun or profit." There is no question the creature in question deserves punishment; that's the point of the mechanics.

Now, in a civilized area, where order exists, the law/chaos distinction becomes important. But D&D by default assumes you're adventuring in wild lands, where there is nobody to hand the evil over to for justice, and where taking prisoners is logistically difficult. So summary execution is the primary means of ensuring that beings that "debase or destroy innocent life" cease to do so.

Since alignment information is scattered throughout the rulebooks, over three different editions, and also found in other non-D&D sources, I've compiled all of the alignment information I have in my library and put it on a website. It may be helpful. Most of the time a rulebook or a source will only give a paragraph or two describing the alignment. This is hardly enough to describe an entire metaphysical, ethical, and social philosophical viewpoint. However, when all of these individual paragraphs are put together on one page, it is easy to see what each alignment represents.

I haven't found anything yet that delves deeper into each alignment, so I have to be content with my borrowed paragraphs and lists. I'm still adding more content and I'm working on referencing everything. It's a work in progress.



I am positively astounded that people are still commenting on this article. It does take a bit of restraint not to respond to posts from over a year ago, especially when I'd just be saying the same old thing. I've said my piece.

In your case, I have to say that you've put more thought into this subject than most appear to do. I like your alignment test particularly.

An interesting read... however I do find that you have conveniently focused on areas that support the perception you have and have severely understated those areas which disagree.

A case in point is the alignment requirement of "half" of the classes. The way you have described it, especially alluding to it being a major mechanic and making reference to it not being a "straight jacket" suggests that you are saying the daily lives of those classes risk immediate alignment shifts all the time.

Let us take a Barbarian for instance, with a chaotic requirement. If a player is correctly playing the part of a barbarian then they are portraying their character as being free and wild, as embracing their uncivilized nature and allowing the "chaos" that is the berserker overtake them. If their actions are severe and repetitious enough to make them Lawful, it means they have either failed to properly play their character, or they have made a conscious choice to leave the wilderness lifestyle and have now embraced order and structure.

This isn't an easy thing to do, and it would require the character to make a concerted effort to play them in a lawful manner. Why then wouldn't their barbaric abilities no longer work if they have clearly and obviously deviated from from what it is that gives that class its powers???

This is not a major mechanic, it is an indicator that is seen as a sum of "checks and balances" which the DM then uses to determine the direction they are taking. Alignment in and of itself does not cause anything to change, there are no mechanics or rules in place which specifically control class abilities being lost, this is purely the discression of the DM.

The same can be said of the Monk. In order for them to have gained the abilities they have, they have dedicated their lives to a purpose, a structure, a way of life... the very paragon of Lawfulness. For them to no longer be lawful means they must have taken repeated and consistent action that leads them away from the belief that structure and order is the way to go.

To hold a belief other than structure and order being their way is to completely and totally turn their back on what it is to be a monk.

One area where I think you have completely missed is where the rulebooks specifically state that alignment is something that you will have to personally reach your own decisions on. The interpretation of the individual alignments is up to the DM and players, the books simply give you guidelines to allow you to make your own value judgements.

A case in point is your mention of "it doesn't state how often or how much you can HURT innocents before you become evil". Why does it need to? The guidelines clearly state that good is a RESPECT for life. Is hurting someone for the sake of hurting them in any way respectful? Is evil simply the opposite of being respectful? If killing an innocent is evil, does that mean NOT killing an innocent is good? While alignments are not tied to certain behaviours, certain behaviours are definately tied to alignments. Of course there are grey areas, but then there are also very clear areas as well.

Lastly, your comments regarding the use of "Detect Evil" and then slaying the person the moment they find them evil is just atypical of extremely poor role-playing and even worse DMing. Any decent DM would see that as an opportunity for some interesting moral choices. They cast detect evil and find the NPC evil, but this NPC is well respected in the community and is known by everyone as being a decent person (their outside persona). How do the PC's know this person is not trying to make up for their misdeeds and hasn't turned over a new leaf? How do they know they are not under some spell which misleads them into seeing their alignment, or that they are not under the contorl of some evil force?

The DM should instantly seize upon this tactic as meta-gaming at its worst, see that it is an attempt by players to circumvent the purpose of such things and step in to put a stop to it with the most colourful and creative of means.

The bottom like is that alignment is what you make of it. If you want it to be a useless and confusing part of a character that makes little sense and is fraught with holes then that is exactly what you will make of it. If you want to see it as being an important and useful part of your character that opens up avenues of role-play and presents them with moral and ethical dilemas that allow them to choose between risking their alignment or taking the easy way then that too is what you will make of it.

Alignment is one of those parts that is completely up to your own interpretation and as you have shown... it can be very poorly interpreted if that is what you set out to do.

To hold a belief other than structure and order being their way is to completely and totally turn their back on what it is to be a monk.

With respect, the problem here is that alignment is a mechanic in the game. Stop and let that sink in. It is a game mechanic.



This mechanic is part of the rules. As often happens in D&D the rules don't become a skeleton upon which the action of the game can happen, but they exist as a grotesque carapace that interferes with it. The mechanic is used to distil and simplify a personality into nine types. A monk has lost their connection to that which gives them strength if they bretray the "code" that they live by. If this code is in conflict with the laws of the land, they will be a force of chaos -- stirring up the rabble, being subversive, and working outside the laws of the land. To all eyes but their own they will be chaotic.

Don't imagine for a moment that claiming that they are lawful in their own eyes gets you off the horns of the dilemma. The law of one is disorder. Perhaps you can introduce another criteria by which to judge their behaviour. Certainly they are adhering to a personal code that is self-sacraficing. That makes my point too as it recognizes the rule as insufficient to adjudicate.

If you have a rule that is unable to adjudicate it is of no use. Why have it?

Rather than creating consequence for action this "typing" creates an artificial blanket. Players who have a vision of a character that does not conveniently fit into the facile moral boxes are forced to justify their actions in terms of it. On the flip side, as has been pointed out numerous times in this thread, players can use the external measure of alignment to justify actions against a "typed" group.

While alignments are not tied to certain behaviours, certain behaviours are definately tied to alignments. Of course there are grey areas, but then there are also very clear areas as well.

So where does the RULE about alignment help? If it doesn't help with the grey areas what is its purpose? It is ridiculous to suggest it is okay to have a rule that works well when it is obvious about what should happen and breaks down as soon as there is any ambiguity.

Alignment exists in D&D because the game designers want to include a holy or unholy energy force that can be classified, targeted, and identified. I am baffled as to why they decided to include humanity and the "middle kingdoms" in this structure.

With respect, the problem here is that alignment is a mechanic in the game. Stop and let that sink in. It is a game mechanic.

I think it falls into a bit of a grey area as to whether it is a mechanic or not. As it is, it is simply an "indicator", which is used by other mechanics (ie spells, classes etc) to determine certain effects. As alignment is only changed by DM discression, and there are no specific rules to follow other than a DM judgement then I don't think it can be considered on the same level as race, class, combat or skills etc.

The mechanic is used to distil and simplify a personality into nine types

That would indeed be one way of looking at it, though as I said before, it is what you make of it and if you choose to look at it as simply categorizing everybody then that is the limit to which you will see it. Stop and let that sink in.

The way that I see it is a sum of "checks and balances". If you were to sum up the total action and intent of your character over their lifetime, their alignment would be the final balance of that action in regard to morality and ethics. In this respect it is not simplifying anything, nor is it distilling anything as it is simply "measuring" two iconic scales which have been chosen as the two main axis. Its like saying classes simplify characters into a handful of base types, or your strength ability simplifies how strong you are.

A monk has lost their connection to that which gives them strength if they bretray the "code" that they live by. If this code is in conflict with the laws of the land, they will be a force of chaos -- stirring up the rabble, being subversive, and working outside the laws of the land. To all eyes but their own they will be chaotic.

I think you have taken a very narrow view of what Lawful/Chaotic means, as well as made it very black and white when it really isn't. To no longer be lawful does not automatically mean you are chaotic, nor does being lawful mean you follow the "laws of the land". I have always seen lawful more in terms of structure and order than of narrowly defining it as "following the laws of the land". It is the belief that prosperity and advencement comes from having a structure and a form, of creating order. It is the belief that in following this order you are given the freedom and the room to grow and thus be a better person because of it. As a result of this belief, laws are followed because of the structure and order they provide, not simply because they are laws. Chaotic by contract is not the desire to cause mayhem and strife wherever you go, but instead the belief that order and structure restricts and stifles growth, and that prosperity instead comes from being individual and breaking away from the order to do things on your own. It doesn't mean you disobey and disbelieve the laws of the land, or even seek to bring them down, but simply that you see them as holding you personally back from what you can achieve.

This is why a monk loses his class abilities when he is no longer lawful because it was that structure and order, and the discipline of his training that made it possible to do those things. Without that discipline or steadfast belief in the fact that following that code allows him to do those things, he becomes powerless as a result. That doesn't mean he runs around trying to cause trouble as there is a whole range of ethical neutrality there before he becomes chaotic. Even if he did become chaotic it doesn't mean he works outside the laws, it simply means that he chooses to follow his own ethical compass instead of blindly living within the bounds of what others tell him is the way to be. If he personally sees merit in the law he will follow it, not because it is a law but because he values what it represents. If however he is presented with a situation that breaks a law but he sees his beliefs are better served to do so then he will without problem.

Even a lawful monk can choose to disobey laws now and then, as the rulebooks state, alignment simply "suggests" a guideline, not something that every single action they take must follow. Thus a monk could act chaotic several times, but when you view their actions as a lump sum, the net result should remain lawful as this is part of who they are as a person and who the player chose them to be by stating the alignment and classes they wanted.

who have a vision of a character that does not conveniently fit into the facile moral boxes are forced to justify their actions in terms of it. On the flip side, as has been pointed out numerous times in this thread, players can use the external measure of alignment to justify actions against a "typed" group.

As with any DM run campaign, it is always important for the DM to explain to the players the way in which they want their world to work, as it is important for the players to explain to the DM the way in which they want to play their characters. I would see this problem very easily resolved in a conversation between the DM and the player. The very first time that this kind of abuse happens, I would assume the DM would explain to the player why it isn't acceptable and the problem is resolved once and for all.

What I don't understand here however is why people are using poor role-playing, or a lack of proper DMing as an excuse to say alignment is flawed. As I have said, alignment is only as good as you perceive it and choose to use it. If you start with the belief that it is flawed and use it (or allow it to be used) in a way that is flawed then that is all you will ever get out of it. What you have described is only a problem and unsolvable if you chose to allow that to be the case. Are you forgetting that the whole point of role-playing at all is for the fun and enjoyment of it, not to abuse the rules or use them to find a way to nullify the edicts of the DM.

So where does the RULE about alignment help? If it doesn't help with the grey areas what is its purpose? It is ridiculous to suggest it is okay to have a rule that works well when it is obvious about what should happen and breaks down as soon as there is any ambiguity.

Again you have taken a purposeful view of alignment in the light you want it to be perceived. You have started with it being flawed and then worked alignment to fit this initial assumption. The rules quite clearly state that it is the DM who should make their own mind up as to what is considered to be actions of each alignment, and to use them on a case by case basis as they see fit. Thus in the "grey areas" it is the DM who makes the ruling, as he does with everything else that happens, be it impromptu skill checks, or judgements on meta-knowledge etc. So the rule always works because it is always at the discression of the DM.... where is the ambiguity there? Where does it break down?

I agree that alignment isn't an easy thing, and it can be difficult to grasp. The main reason for this is not that alignment is flawed, it is that it is one of the only parts of the system that attempts to deal with a subject that is highly subjective, and has many different perceived meanings which unfortunately can be based on the person playing them as well as their culture and many other factors. This is why it is made quite clear that each DM should make their own mind up (just as an author does), about what constitutes being good or evil in their world. What it means to be lawful and chaotic, and what it means to be none of them.

Alignment exists in D&D because the game designers want to include a holy or unholy energy force that can be classified, targeted, and identified. I am baffled as to why they decided to include humanity and the "middle kingdoms" in this structure.

I would argue that Alignment was created for 2 reasons. The first being to provide a means to seperate the good guys from the bad guys, both mortal and deity, such that DMs have the ability to correctly play the purpose and intent of the NPCs in the world, and second as a tool for structuring certain elements of the game which required it.

To give you an example of the latter. A paladin as we all know is a paragon of good, but without alignment and any sort of consequence to their actions a player could choose to be a paladin and then cut a path of blood through the world. Alignment is therefore a tool that brings into line the choice of class with a guideline on what good role-playing of that class means in terms of their actions. The same goes for an assassin. People cannot simply choose to be an assassin while living a life of compassion and goodness, it goes against the purpose and intent of the class. So again alignment is a guideline which helps players role-play their characters in a way that matches what their characters are. It doesn't pigeonhole them as it is never stated that they must always act like that, only that the majority of their actions should reflect this if they want to keep getting the benefits of what they chose to be.

I think their use of ethics was a brilliant inclusion, as it provides a good counter-balance to morality, and it shows how actions can sometimes be ethically based instead of morally. Without it good and evil would be pretty boring, there would be no deliniation between calculated and methodical evil and the raw, crazy kind of evil, nor would there be a difference between the person who does good because its who they are and the person who does good because it is how they have chosen to run their life. With the two axis, it generates a large enough range for the DM to play NPCs as widely as they want and for players to create their own characters with as much latidude as they want, providing of course they stick within the bounds of "reason" based on their class and race choices.

It is what you make of it... you seem to have chosen to make very little of it and thus all you can see is very little use for it.

Thanks for your well considered reply.

I only have a few moments and will respond in more detail later.

"That would indeed be one way of looking at it, though as I said before, it is what you make of it and if you choose to look at it as simply categorizing everybody then that is the limit to which you will see it."

It is what it is. I would rather see characters in the game through their actions and motivations, prejudices and beliefs. If I were to employ alignment I would make a value judgement on one set of beliefs or another. You suggest that I have choice because people are placed in boxes at my discretion. If I place someone in the "good" box then certain spells work against them. If I place them in the "evil" box then it is other spells that now function. These are tangible results in the game world. It shapes the mechanic and becomes part of the narrative. Characters can now use these tangible results to guide moral action. That is why I called it an ugly carapace in my last post. The motivations of a character are worthy of exploration -- why would we want to put a label on the outside that precludes investigation. Alignment has raised a generation of gamers with an indifference to the emotional and ethical motivations of others and given their characters the fanatical moral certitude to commit murder with little thought for consequence. There are too many zealots in the world with a disregard for the views of others. We shouldn't try to breed them at the game table.

Alignments simplify the ethical landscape of the game. Do we agree on that?

Alignments simplify the ethical landscape of the game. Do we agree on that?

Every single rule within D&D simplifies something in some way. It is by its nature an approximation. Whether it is your class, your ability scores, skill ranks or feats. Alignment in that respect is no different.

I am not sure I would go so far as to say that the use of Alignment in D&D is responsible for indifference in people in general as the intent that was always had was for players to essentially play good characters and for their enemies to oppose them. No matter what media you choose (movies, books, role-playing games), any topic that deals with moral or ethical dilemas will always be a grey area that has many different points of view simply because it calls into question a persons own beliefs. It is often difficult to seperate personal belief from that of your character and few players spend the time to create a complete mindset for their character with its own seperate belief system that fits the race, class and alignment they have chosen.

But this is where I see alignment, and the explaination of alignment by a DM to be absolutely important to the game. If we remove it, we are left with a DM making their own value judgement on the actions of the characters, and without it there and explained, the players never have a clear definition of how the DM (who is essentially running the game) views moral and ethical choices. This opens everybody up to the difficulties of trying to take action in a world where you don't know what that action implies.

If you have a good set of mature players, then you may be able to get away without having alignment because they are all there to have fun and are reasonable and fair people... but often in any group there is one or more people who see it as an opportunity to exploit the system. Without a clearly defined alignment system, it is very difficult for a DM to maintain a campaign when there are no rules in place to guide players appropriately.

I think one thing that isn't clear however is that the putting of a person in a box doesn't happen over night, and there may be several stages before that person is put in a box that they are told where they are heading. In this manner it does not preclude investigation of their motivations, and instead clearly shows them that their actions are taking them down a specific path in the eyes of the DM. If they cannot understand why this is happening or disagree that it should, then that allows them to discuss it with the DM outside of the campaign. If at any time there is a disconnection between where they believe they are heading and where the DM assesses them to be heading then it clearly needs to be resolved.

Lets take the Sleight of Hand skill for instance. We are talking about stealing from others. For some this is clearly just an ethical situation, while for others it may have moral connotations as well. One could argue that stealing from ssomeone clearly disrespects them in some way and thus cannot be considered a good act, while others would argue that there are laws against stealing and thus it cannot be considered a lawful act. Others again may claim that stealing breaks down the very fibre of society and thus it is chaotic. When context is added to the situation (who is being stolen from, what was stolen, what is the intent of stealing) it becomes even more open to interpretation. A player may see themselves as the Robin Hood type, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. In thier mind they have perceived their character as being "Chaotic Good" because they clearly flaunt the law, but their reasoning is ultimately the greater good of people not so well off and thus they are doing a good thing. The DM on the other hand has noticed that they do a lot of stealing, and very little giving to the poor. The player makes comments such as "Oh I must equip myself first so that I can succeed in giving to the poor" and "I have to eat, or I wont be able to help". It is at this point that the DM would inform the player their character is starting to head towards moral neutrality. Either the player accepts the reasoning behind this and continues to act as they always have with the full knowledge that their actions will change their alignment eventually, or they discuss it with the DM to try and understand why their view differs from that of the DM. At no time is anyone dropped into a box, nor is the motivations behind the characters actions limited or restricted in any way.

This is why I see alignment as less of a mechanism and more of an indicator. It is the DMs way of letting a player know how they view the character's actions throughout a long and extended adventure. Its like a method of giving feedback to the player to ensure that everyone is on the same page and that they all understand how their actions are both intended and seen. The fact that certain spells, magic items and other game mechanics have an alignment component to them relates more to the players choice of direction (ie I want to use this Holy Avenger, thus I must meet certain requirements to do so), than it does to alignment itself. Being good brings with it some benefits, but it also has its own burdens to shoulder. The accumulation of all this presents the players with a decision to make. Do you take the easy way out and be evil, but have to risk being hunted down? Or do you take the long and hard road of being good but gain the rewards in the end? While the exact path to reaching both of these may vary, there certainly are a lot of similarities between all characters who go down those paths... thus the DM through using alignment "guides" them down the paths they have chosen for themselves.

While some of your points are salient, I disagree with your statement that "At no time is anyone dropped into a box". As you said yourself, there is a whole spectrum of behavior between Good and Evil (or Chaotic and Lawful). However, the D&D alignment system clearly divides that into three sections (on two axes). To take your example: At what point in the Robin Hood-wannabe's life is Protection from Good going to affect him? After 3 thefts? after 5? Will it stop working if he gave all of the loot from the 6th to the poor?

In addition, you said:
putting of a person in a box doesn't happen over night
It does, though. From a player's point of view, an NPC is tagged with his alignment the moment they meet him (and cast the appropriate spell), and for some, one marked as Evil is ripe for killing, because there is an absolute moral evaluation system, not a subjective one. Were I to run a game with moral tags, I'd have to make all NPCs neutral, save for the most extreme cases (demons and angels, Hitler and Ghandi).

I do not mind the existence of alignment as a handle on a character's personality, as it can be a useful tool. I DO mind it directly affecting play. I'd rather have the Monk's entry to say "the Monk must adhere always to the beliefs and customs of his order [enter details, options and so on], or risk losing his powers" over the generic "the monk must me Lawful" and having a "+2 sword against Lawful".

"I think it falls into a bit of a grey area as to whether it is a mechanic or not. As it is, it is simply an "indicator", which is used by other mechanics (ie spells, classes etc) to determine certain effects. "

"Every single rule within D&D simplifies something in some way. It is by its nature an approximation. Whether it is your class, your ability scores, skill ranks or feats. Alignment in that respect is no different."

So alignment is a rule but not a mechanic. Can you describe the difference?

In most D&D worlds 100% of the inhabitants are assigned an alignment. That is 100% rule penetration and ranks right up there with armor class and hit points. While you may debate which category a person belongs to, you enevitably come to some conclusion and place them within the box (and reserve the right to reassign at a later date).

This is what I disagree with -- not your well developed sensibilites on how to define the nine categories and your theories about how and when a character may slide between them.

I agree with Zip. In my D&D campaign 98% of all of the inhabitants are not assigned an alignment. This includes priests, paladins, thieves, kings, and commoners. There are those things from the realm of heaven or the depths of hell that are infused with either the Healing Life force or the Dark Subversion. People can channel this energy too. They can cast spells to find it and use energy to repel it. However people don't own it.


By being put into a box I mean pigeonholing. This entails the belief that once in that box you remain there forever because that is who you are. This is not the fault of alignment as a system but of the way people think. The DM has to make a judgement call as to whether they think players are appropriately playing the alignment of their characters and keeping track of where the DM believes the person is (with appropriate feedback when transgressions occur) makes it possible for players to correct or discuss those actions before they are indeed pigeonholed.

The other difference comes from the fact that your alignment is the reflection of your actions, not your actions being a reflection of your alignment. How can a person be put in a box when the way in which they continue to act will determine their alignment? Of course there is some confusion here because from a DM's perspective, the alignment of an NPC is actually an indicator to them on how the NPC may behave, but I have explained before that this is a cross-purpose of alignment and shouldn't be considered the same as a players alignment (see previous posts)

While there may be 3 clearly "defined" sections, do you notice how actions can fall into more than one section? People both evil or neutral could steal, people both good or neutral could help someone out... in fact even an evil person could help someone out for their own motives. Simply having categorizations used to provide "indication" does not mean we are dropping people in boxes.

Your example of killing someone tagged as evil is not only flawed, but shows very poor DM skills. A person who is evil may have a change of heart. Dedicating their lives to doing what is right does not automatically change their alignment to good, and so any decent DM would be instantly stopping players from using this technique to choose who to kill by showing them that alignment alone isn't enough. I have already made these suggestions, you may want to read some of my other comments on how to resolve this.

As for the monk, I am not sure you understand the purpose of the class if this is how you feel. For a monk to gain the abilities they do there must be an incredible amount of discipline and structure to what they do. They must in fact embody everything that is order and regiment. How else does a monk reach a level of control over their body if not by this all encompassing belief that anything is possible through the structuring and organization? If a monk was anything but lawful then they wouldn't be able to provide that level of focus and dedication required to achieve the abilities they do. Have you ever heard of an order of monks that followed sloth or laziness? Or an order of "do what you want, who cares"?


So alignment is a rule but not a mechanic. Can you describe the difference?

How does a person describe the contents of the sourcebook in one all encompassing word? Rules? Guides? Instructions?

I used the word rule as a means of trying to encapsulate every concept within D&D. Some of those concepts provide nothing more than simple window dressing (ie the character's eyes are blue), while others carry with it mechanics (they are an elf therefore they are immune to sleep etc). Alignment does not in any way carry with it any additional mechanics, it is instead an indicator.

Other things like spells and magic items however use this indicator as part of their mechanics, and thus the two are different.

Perhaps I should have used the word "concept" instead, but I was struggling to find the world that groups everything together.

In most D&D worlds 100% of the inhabitants are assigned an alignment

Do they? I always assumed that most inhabitants were assigned "True Neutral" simply because it didn't matter. If we have a non-standard society (ie the drow) then they may be assigned an alignment, but again the purpose of doing this is simply to tell the DM how the society functions.

Say its a Lawful Evil society and you are guided to think of structure but cruelty, say its a Chaotic Evil society and you are guided to think utter chaos and destruction. This is the point I was making about how alignment really has 2 completely seperate functions, one of which is to give the DM some rough guidelines as to how to play them.

I can see from your perspective how this is putting them in the box, but that is a very, very broad box (so broad that for me I dont see the box at all). Two completely seperate Lawful Evil societies could be played totally differently, and yet they still have the same alignment. This is possible because they have already said that alignment is simply a guide and doesn't try to bound or limit every single action that is taken.

If you look at the rulebooks however you will never see anything written that says "If your alignment is X then you will have attribute Y". This is deliberate because you are not "boxed" by your alignment. Conversely however, you can say "If your strength is X, then you have a +Y bonus to Z", or "If your race is X then you have ability Y", etc, etc, etc.

Can you see the difference?

But you do have attributes based on your alignment at a given point in time, according to the referee's judgement, which will be based, I'm sure, on a careful time-integral vectorial summation of one's character's actions throughout their lifetime... ;-)

These attributes are susceptibilities to magical effects based on your alignment. (Please don't try to argue that a susceptibility and an attribute aren't the same thing - I'm using 'attribute' in a broad sense).

For example, if you are caught in the area of effect of an Axiomatic Storm spell, you will take damage if you are chaotic. At that moment in time, you are 'boxed' by your alignment - the referee must make a judgement as to whether you are 'chaotic enough' at that moment in time to be affected by the spell or not. The spell description offers no sliding scale of damage based on the finer nuances of your chaoticness. It's all or nothing.

Now, not everyone is comfortable with this sort of mechanic (or whatever alternative abstract noun you will accept). It can, and does, lead to all sorts of arguments, especially if it would prove fatal to the character in question.

Yes, you can create workarounds, like deciding they will only take half damage because they aren't very chaotic. But then you are having to modify the rules, because they aren't providing a fine enough level of detail. Some referees might not want to have to make these kinds of highly subjective judgement calls. Refereeing is a tough enough job already having to make decisions about DCs all the time. It seems like alignment is just making more work for referees, and creating more scope for arguments. This isn't just my opinion, it's based on 30 years of empirical observation as a player and referee.

You can, if you wish, make the decision to do away with spells that deal damage based on alignment. Or remove other alignment-based features from the game. You might also tell your players that detecting that someone is 'evil' isn't sufficient cause by itself to justify their attacking and killing that opponent without compromising their own alignment. But if alignment is reduced to an indicator that has no consequence, then there is little point in using it at all. Let's consider the Detect Evil spell. Suppose your players soon learn not to trust the result of a Detect Evil, because some of those evil folks might now be seeking redemption, and are just residually evil from past deeds. And even if they are evil, attacking them with no other provocation than the result of a detect spell is itself judged to be evil. What then? If the players can't use someone's detected alignment as a justification for action, then before long they will abandon their use of the spell. This amounts to a de facto reduction of alignment's impact on the game (in other words, a nail in the coffin).

In order for alignment to be worth measuring and talking about it has to have consequences. Once you introduce consequences, then you can't get away from the fact that at certain points in the game, people are affected in some way by the box that they happen to be in at that point in time. Of course, their alignment might actually best be thought of as a point somewhere on a two-dimensional continuum rather than constrained by some coarse 'box' - and you and the players can have that level of detail in the way you think about alignment. BUT - at the point where the rules require you to determine consequences (without the existence of which, alignment is of little practical use within the game) - it is invariably the case that a system of boxes must be superimposed on that two-dimensional continuum and then consequences arise based on which box people happen to be in at that point. Usually (in the rules as given) these consequences are lacking in nuance.

It may be the case that you personally, as a player or referee, have no problem with this. It may be that in your particular style of game, alignment is regarded as an asset, both as a mechanic/rule and a theme, or a helpful guide for how various creatures are likely to behave. It may be that you don't mind acting as moral arbiter and your players may be happy to accept the judgements you make and the fineness (or lack thereof) of consequential nuance. In that case, by all means, carry on using it. But you should also accept that not everyone will share your views, and that there will be those who will bemoan (with good reason) the extent to which alignment is embedded in the D&D core game, when it perhaps ought to be the subject of an optional supplement for those who wish to use it.

I think perhaps we have a difference of opinion on what constitutes a mechanism for alignment specifically, and what just happens to use alignment in its own mechanisms.

If we take race for example, it is race which dictates ability modifiers, and without any other part of the system we can clearly see that such a mechanism is in place. The same goes for skills or feats or classes. They all specifically state (without the need for other parts of the system) exactly what effects and modifications result from the choices that are made.

Alignment on the other hand does not. When you choose an alignment, there is no other statement or effect or modification, and no other part of the system is required to explain or use alignment. The fact that some spells or magic items have an alignment component is not a mechanic of alignment, but instead is a mechanic of the spell or item. This is why I keep calling alignment an "indicator", because there are absolutely no mechanics which stem from alignment itself...

This is also why I keep saying that alignment has two very distinct and different purposes. From an NPC perspective, the purpose of alignment is to give the DM an idea of how to play them. It gives them a rough guide as to the sorts of actions they might take. This in my opinion is completely and totally seperate to the alignment which players have, as the purpose of alignment for players is to give them guidelines on what actions are considered acceptable given their alignment, class, race choice etc. Its another method for the DM to create obsticles or challenges which may be alignment based instead of ability or skill/feat based.

I do understand what your saying about having a personal view and in allowing others to have theirs, but I do feel that those who view alignment as being so poor are doing so because they start with the opinion that it is poor and then fit it to their opinion rather than trying to see alignment for the potential it can have. Constantly when discussing it, the examples given are very narrowly focused examples that specifically highlight what they want to highlight. In that respect you only get out of it what you put into it. Does that then mean that alignment is flawed, or that those who do not see the value in it are making it flawed by the way in which they choose to use and abuse it?

Look at it conversely. If something was truely bad, then no amount of "attempting" to get something good out of it would yield results. So while you may argue that I am doing exactly the same in starting with the opinion it has value and making it that way, I could not do so if there was not value there to be made in the first place. Correct?

I wanted to make a seperate point here about the assigning of alignments and "categorizing a person".

If I were to write an adventure for someone else to run, and I wanted to convey to them very quickly the general feel of a particular society of people, how would I go about explaining my intentions to a would-be-DM?

Should I provide a long winded explaination of the society and what the general sentiment is? Or should I simply give you a very quick and succinct indicator that tells you "roughly" how to play them? This is what I mean by alignment having 2 seperate functions. When you read a description for a monster or NPC, the alignment specified there is generally just to indicate to you how to play them as the DM. If the community is Lawful Evil then you will describe that society to the players in a totally different way than if the community was indicated to be Chaotic Evil, etc, etc.

That doesn't mean every person acts exactly the same, nor does it mean every single member of that society is the same alignment. It is just the simplest way of passing on helpful information in the shortest possible space. I dont think this makes alignment itself "haywire", more than it does some of the other mechanics that use it and some of the specific situations (like detect alignment spells) in which it doesn't work. There are many other parts of D&D that have specific situations where the rules don't work, does that mean those are flawed because of a few ways they fall short?

Enigmatic -

Alignment does not in any way carry with it any additional mechanics, it is instead an indicator.

Other things like spells and magic items however use this indicator as part of their mechanics, and thus the two are different.


Say what?

At the risk of sounding rude, I must say that this is a convoluted justification for a system that is meant to be simple and abstract.

A descriptor that triggers a rules-based effect, such as magical effect, loss of character powers, or special knowledge - which alignment as conceived by Gygax (requiescat in pace) clearly does, all the way through 3.5 - is a mechanic. A 'concept' such as, say, armor class, that triggers rules-effects is a mechanic. Call it what you will: the rules give effects based on this so-called descriptor, while the vast majority of descriptors have no game effect whatsoever. There are no spells that affect only blue-eyed characters; I cannot even think of a spell that distinguishes between genders, which are arguably a much more significant descriptor than eye-color.

I must take polite exception to your judgment of me, and by implication all the men and women with whom I've gamed over the past 29 years, as a poor roleplayer (and worse GM) among poor roleplayers. The best roleplayers I know eschew alignment because they don't need it, and enjoy portraying characters of layered complexity. What alignment is Conan? Oh, who cares? Let's have some fun, eh?

I feel compelled to remind you that the vast majority of RPGs don't use alignment at all. The best CRPGs that do use it - KotOR and Jade Empire spring instantly to mind - use only a very basic black or white (or, in these cases, red or blue) dichotomy...and that is precisely where D&D's 4th Edition is headed. I quote (emphasis mine):

According to the developers, the alignment system remains, but will be de-emphasized. Most characters will be "unaligned" with only a few stalwarts dedicated to Good or Evil.

I rest my case. Gilgamesh, Zipdrive, Lurkinggherkin - these are not voices howling in the wilderness for grief of solitude, but some of the most intelligent men and finest roleplayers I have had the pleasure to encounter. If the old-school alignment system works for you, enjoy, but I will thank you to consider that you are speaking to a group of people whose collective experience in roleplaying exceeds a century. If by-the-book alignment had ever been useful to me, from novice roleplayer to grizzled old coot, who incidentally brought numerous men and women of adult age into the hobby over the years...I'd never have written this article. Cheers, and thanks for your comments.

1. Alignment as an indicator

I was providing a description of how I see alignment as being different from the other concepts in the rulebooks for the simple fact that alignment itself does not share the same properties. The way in which alignment is both described and treated in the manuals clearly distinguishes it from being a mechanic and pretty clearly states that it is up to those playing the game and the DM to make their own mind up about what constitutes acts of different alignments for this reason only.

This was why I said that you get out of it what you put into it. If the manuals say it is up to you to make of alignment what you will, and you cannot understand the value in it, then what will you get out of such a thing?

2. Judgments and misunderstandings

I dont believe that I actually said anyone was a poor roleplayer or a bad DM, and if that is how someone has taken it then I am sorry that misunderstood what I said. I said that someone who would allow their campaign to descend to such a level where their players allowed to cast alignment spells and picking off anyone evil is clearly not being a good DM. There is a world of difference between placing a judgment call on a situation, and having someone else suddenly take direct offense as if it was being said to them.

Do you not agree that in any game, allowing the players to abuse the rules like that is a sign of poor DMing?

I would have to ask why you feel judged, and why you simply cannot see that it is simply my opinion. Judgment cannot be made without knowing more information, but that doesn't stop a person from giving an opinion based on the information that currently have at hand. That you took it personally is perplexing in the least.

3. Conan's Alignment

Thank you for the example. I think this can be used to clearly highlight the purpose of alignment and why it is not as confusing as people think. While his actual alignment may not be relevant (and may in fact have changed over his lifetime), one thing that conan was not was lawful. This is why there is an alignment requirement for barbarians... not to confuse or railroad people down narrow paths, but to simply say "If the guy has changed his attitude and belief system so much that he is no longer chaotic, then he really isn't a barbarian any more is he?".

Someone who is lawful would never allow themselves to be overtaken by rage like that, let alone make it a part of their daily lives. Only those who can embrace the wildness of it, who can free themselves completely, are able to summon that kind of rage.

So what this does is simple. If a person chooses a barbarian as a class and then spends their entire adventure roleplaying them like the stalwart of law and order, the DM will use the alignment restriction as a means of bringing the players portrayal of the class back in line with some of the generic boundaries that members of that class should have.

So where exactly is the "mechanics" in that? No traits, abilities, bonuses or calculations exist, there is no logic path to follow or set of conditions to be met, we simply have the DM making a judgment call based on their take on what constitutes an alignment in comparison to what the player is doing.

4. D&D 4th Edition

I have never once said that the alignment system was a piece of cake. The very fact that it is the only part of the entire system which relies completely on personal opinion as to the categorization of moral and ethical actions and intentions means it will always be opened to the broadest interpretation. This was my whole point of saying that it isn't the alignment system that is at fault, but the nature of the beast itself.

The fact that in 4E they have now depreciated it only proves my point (thank you for making the case for me). Instead of looking at individual cases and trying to maintain an idea of what constitutes every single step, they decided to simply make it more generic, with only those who exceptionally personify an extreme to be labeled. By doing so, we can all understand and accept certain universal truths about what constitutes these dipoles of alignment from a fictional stand point. Nobody is ever going to look at the bad guy and question that he is evil, or wonder if the good guy is really good because with 4E they are trying to make it more like an epic movie, where the bad guys wear black, and everything is clear cut to safe confusion.

5. Centegenarian Roleplaying

I completely respect those with experience, those with reason and with the desire to not only learn and understand, but to help and foster learning in others. I dont however see the need to have the size of someones experiences quoted at me. Was there a specific purpose in making that point? Perhaps it was your belief that the larger you made the number sound, I would somehow completely alter my views and opinions because I would realize I am talking to this centegenarian collective that has existed since before roleplaying was even invented and thus would have to automatically concede they must always be right simply because they have a "century" of experience? Not a very reasoned means of trying to foster learning or understanding I would have thought (well it doesn't work for me to have such things quoted at me).

6. If it works for you

I cannot state this enough (as it seems to keep getting lost), but you get out of the alignment system what you put into it. If you see little value in it then you will see it as being confusing and useless. That was my entire point... Don't blame alignment when you can't see the value in it to start with.

I have the feeling this conversation is getting out of control and has been for years. I will keep my remarks respectful and brief.

1. This point does not address the issue of the spell lists and magic items. You seem to be intent on making an esoteric distinction; in play, this descriptor/indicator takes on attributes of a mechanic.

2. Rules being subject to abuse are a problem for nearly any DM who runs a campaign long enough. Without the rules, where are players to know when a DM is being arbitrary? I agree with you that in an ideal world, everyone at the table shares friendship, maturity, and mutual respect. In reality, I find these frictions to be a problem with a personal gaming community of ~20 players, of whom the vast majority hold high-paying professional jobs. In case it's not clear, I only say that to distinguish my players from the stereotypical, socially leprous, smelly kid gaming in his parents' basement - who is real, and whom we've all met and probably played with at least once, but who is in my experience NOT representative of the whole hobby and hasn't been for a very long time. In all my years of gaming, I have found one and only one gaming group entirely free of the social frictions that can be and sometimes are exacerbated by rules interpretations.

3. "Unaligned" works far better for me. Conan has known discipline, but let's not argue the case - my point was very simple, and that is that a systemic, class-based alignment requirement does not make the game more enjoyable for me.

4. But the vast majority of PCs and NPCs will still be unaligned, no? So this certainty of which you speak - is it really there?

5. Yes, actually. You're not talking to people new to the hobby who are coming with preconceptions, but seasoned (and very helpful - zip, gherkin, and Gil are some of the nicer guys around, no matter whether you think I have manners that would embarrass a bridge-troll) roleplayers, each of whom has spent decades trying to make this system work. Speaking for myself, I don't think it does. It may have helped me a little when I was under 10, but as I grew and began to read some of the source literature (especially Moorcock, Zelazny, and Leiber), I began to look askance at the Gygaxian mishmash of Moorcockian and Tolkienesque alignment poles. Some of the alignments were underused and silly (remember Demodands?).

6. Thank you. I put a lot into it, and what I got was more often than not player conflict. I repeat: I didn't come to the system with preconceptions, but developed a longstanding dislike of the system over years and years of play.

I do appreciate your comments, but let's agree to disagree, eh? It works for you: enjoy, with my honest blessings. I am willing to bet your campaigns are a lot of fun. I know people who refuse to budge from 2nd ed, and whose campaigns rival anything I've ever seen for depth, complexity, and color. I wrote this article to explain why - and more importantly to me, how - I had moved away from the use of the old-school alignments.

Strength and honor to you, sieur.

Then we shall agree to disagree. Your article clearly has merrit for those who are unable to make proper use of the alignment system, as it is better to find something that works than try to continue to use someting that doesn't.

I simply wanted to provide a counter balance to show that it is not necessarily the fault of the system itself, but of the subject behind the system and of the ability to clearly define the interpretation taken when using it and effectively communicate that to the group.

Happy hunting

"unable to make proper use of the alignment system"

I don't think you've managed to establish the value of the alignment system. You suggested that is a valuable descriptor, but the dictionary is full of valuable descriptors that can be put together in many more combinations than D&D does. You can't be suggesting by limiting yourself to five words you are adding clairity? Why is this better than having a Myers-Briggs (INFP etc.) or True Colors profile for D&D characters? The latter is a far better predictor of behaviour than GOOD/NEUTRAL/EVIL.

What is the proper use of the system?

I have tried to play with it. Based on what I have learned in school, literature, and observation the D&D alignment system is a poor method of classification. Here is why I find the system broken:

It is artificial and at best irrelevant. People RESPOND to moral situations. Alignment does not give the DM any intersting tools to work from. Alignment in D&D is five words. Fewer than my last sentence. That one too.

Having a character adhere to a code of conduct should be an element of the SETTING not the rules. A Knighthood exists in a social context. One of the reasons that D&D does such a bad job of this is because of the Alignment system. By having an Alignment to adhere to the game designers have written out the need to place a character within context in their society. Do you remember those ridiculous level titles? Alignment interferes with the game because it provides a crippled excuse for context. Alignment replaces something better.

Alignment forces a cosmology on the D&D player -- especially the casual pick-up player who is innodated by this mixed pot-pourri of belief systems and mythologies. Instead of having anything close to an internally consistent set of beliefs that come into conflict with other beliefs and cultures, everything becomes melted and judged. A blacksmith and baker are assigned an ethical energy that is real in the game world. It is real. The fact that a character in this world is Good is undeniable and unambiguous. It can be detected and tested. Being able to thwart the detection does not counter my point.

All for what? What does using this system properly do for the game? How does it enhance the gaming experience? I challenge you to write an article on how to use the alignment system properly. Show me how it can improve the game and I'll eat my shorts.


I think you have missed the entire point here.

When we discuss alignment we are talking about a completely subjective topic that every person will draw from their own moral and ethical beliefs to validate. No matter what is given, other people will argue that it is wrong simply becuase it doesn't fit their own belief systems. That is why alignment is such a problem, not becuase of the system but because of the topic.

We could change it to Myer/Biggs or Yeung, or any number of alternatives and ultimately we have exactly the same thing.

You say it forces a cosmology on a player, I say it provides them guidelines, you say alignments have to be "adhered to" and I say they let you know when you are straying too far, you say it interferes because it provides a crippled excuse for context and I say it is stated broad enough to allow you freedom of movement.

So which of us is right simply because we have made the statements?

D&D has always been about "Good vs Evil". It was specifically written that way from the start as your atypical altruistic struggle between light and dark. This predicates without doubt the fact that you must be able to tell the difference between the two or what is the point? So the first axis is an absolute certainty that simply must exist because it is the very foundation of the game itself. Remove that, and you completely destroy the nature of what D&D was supposed to stand for.

But what other axis can you have other than a moralistic one? The only other one that makes any sense... an ethical one. There are times when it is the right thing to do, but not the thing that is done within the boundaries of what you are doing. Is it right to take a persons's home away when they can't pay for it? Of course not, but its the ethical thing to do otherwise what is the point of having a bank if they will just give money out without getting it back.

This then goes towards another D&D ethos of structure vs individuality and again has been specifically built into the core of certain classes. Monks and Paladins draw there very essence from structure and order, from the belief that in following this ordered and calculated approach to life ultimately benefits everyone. The complete counterpoints to that are the barbarians and rangers who believe its the individual and individual efforts which bring benefits because only when we are stepping beyond order and structure do we advance. Its a classic counter point to each other, a completely opposing point of view but based on ethics instead of morals.

The system you are suggesting would leave far too much grey area, where people could be acting under their own belief of doing something good, but it is not good for other people around them. Now ther is no longer a "good guy" because they are all good guys to their own cultures and thus you muddy the water so significantly it all just becomes a free for all. Under such a system players could quite easily tell their DM they are doing what is right and good by ridding the world of people who can cast magic because the world is full of horrors created by magic. Who then would you be to tell them they are wrong when they are following their own code and their own culture? Where are the lines drawn?

I would love to write an article about how to properly use the alignment system, but is there a point when clearly you have already made up your mind about the outcome before it is written? If I honestly think you were open to fairly judging it on its own merrits then perhaps I would, but everybody seems to have already created their views based on "years of fighting with it". How also does anyone objectively judge something which I have constantly repeated as saying is purely subjective?

You get out of alignment what you put into it. If you look at something and only quote the bad parts of it, then the only thing you will ever see is the bad parts of it.

The system you are suggesting would leave far too much grey area, where people could be acting under their own belief of doing something good, but it is not good for other people around them. Now ther is no longer a "good guy" because they are all good guys to their own cultures and thus you muddy the water so significantly it all just becomes a free for all. Under such a system players could quite easily tell their DM they are doing what is right and good by ridding the world of people who can cast magic because the world is full of horrors created by magic. Who then would you be to tell them they are wrong when they are following their own code and their own culture? Where are the lines drawn?

Sounds a bit like life, actually...;-)

"We could change it to Myer/Biggs or Yeung, or any number of alternatives and ultimately we have exactly the same thing."

My point. An unecessary addition to the game.

Why don't we add personality categories to D&D? We could have Outgoing, moderate, and reserved as one measure and Appeasing, moderate, and aggressive as the other. Now we have nine wonderful combinations that we can assign to characters. We could make some classes, like the paladin, have to adhere to the Outgoing type. They could be Outgoing/Appeasing; Outgoing/Moderate; or Outgoing/Aggressive. Wouldn't that be cool? That way I can make sure that players conform to how I want them to play without having to build any reason in the game world to accompany it?

No matter how good my definition of these personality types is, the horrible question remains --- why do I need it? I can roleplay without this heavy-handed interference. What does it add?

I think you have missed the entire point here.

Saying that alignment adds nothing is not subjective. You have not provided one REASON to use alignment. I've read the copious amounts of opinions in this forum and haven't found one supportable reason to use alignment. Don't back out and say that the reason I haven't found one is because I am not disposed to. Name a reason.

"You say it forces a cosmology on a player, I say it provides them guidelines"

No. Everyone who plays with alignment has to play in a world that has spells that effect good differently from evil. This means that in your worlds a character can overcome a magical effect by the virtue of how their morality is assessed. Bob comes across a magical ward that protects against evil. Bob decides to fervently repent. He spends years changing his alignment to neutral or good and returns to pass the ward. Ethical actions have magical effects. Seems facile to me.

The biggest flaw in your logic is that you suppose alignment is valuable because it allows you to describe and get insight about a character. You can have that without alignment.

Alignment is a categorization of every inhabitant of the game world that changes the way the interact with the magic and nature of that world.

"It was specifically written that way from the start as your atypical altruistic struggle between light and dark. This predicates without doubt the fact that you must be able to tell the difference between the two or what is the point?"

This kind of moral certitude is frankly disturbing.

And of course "real life" is exactly the reason why we play D&D isn't it?

Hmmmm. You're not too comfortable with the whole "shades of grey" concept, are you? I can see why you like the alignment system....!

Well, if it makes you happy.

You know, Enigmatic, I don't think that anyone in the 'anti-alignment' camp is actually saying that discussions about what constitutes Good and Evil, Law and Chaos, should never take place during a game, or that those words shouldn't be mentioned.

The important point here, is that those discussions are, in themselves, fuel for roleplaying. Characters can hold their own ideas and opinions about what constitutes good and evil, and can debate these in-game. Players can enjoy building these philosophies into the role for their character, and enjoy the interactions with other player characters that this leads to - in character. In-game disagreements (providing that the players are mature enough not to let these spill over into real life) can be hugely enjoyable parts of the roleplaying experience that spice things up a bit from time to time.

But when you state that good and evil, law and chaos, are things that can be objectively measured, in-game, then rather than these ethical or moral debates being contained in-game, they instead spill out into the real world, as the players argue with the referee's judgements or take umbrage with the way the alignment rules work. (Just look at us arguing, and you'll see what I mean!)

Gods will have their own ideas of what is good and evil, of course, and in the (usually) polytheistic multiverse of D&D, they too will argue about these matters, often through the medium of their intermediaries on the material plane. But the arguments are in-game, and are the consequence of roles that are being acted out.

Once you introduce objective alignment as a quality that can be determined unambiguously in-game, it makes it hard for any kind of moral relativism to manifest itself within the game. This seems to have removed an interesting dimension from the roleplayer's repertoire.

I might add that, though this debate about alignment is a hoary old chestnut, it has livened this place up a bit!

Next up - should D&D include a 'Detect Politics' spell?

(Runs away laughing maniacally)

Well said Gherkin. I think I've been struggling to express that. It is a great topic because people certainly tend to polarize.

The other bones of contention in D&D (Hit Points, Armor Class, Experience Points) aren't nearly so touchy because those who really find fault with those abstractions tend to move off D&D to a better system. Alignment polarizes people who still play the game.

It is interesting that you mention other points of contention like HP, AC and XP. Curiously enough, in all of those cases they are game mechanics which are used to approximate things, and while people may have completely opposing views on how they should be done, they are accepted as a mechanic and an approximation.

This is why alignment stands out as being so different. The very nature of the topic it covers can be seen in wildly different lights. One person could say stealing is a chaotic evil act, but another would argue that if the worst thing they ever did in life was just to steal would it make them the most chaotically evil person? Others may argue that the act is Non-Lawful Non-Good, which means the worst that would ever happen is they would become neutral. All of these different view points stem from a personal belief system and how the player personally feels about the topic.

The same cannot be said for the other issues as nobody has a personal belief system about experience points, only a personal view on how they would do it.

This is why I keep harping on about how much alignment is the result of what you put into it. If you come into it with the belief that it wont work and that the relationship between actions and alignment and classes and alignment are muddy to begin with, then that is exactly what you will get out of the system.

Firstly I am not talking about objective alignment. I have always said that it should be something discussed prior to the game about what judgements are made in relation to alignment by the DM who is running the game. It can never be objective because it is always the subjective view of the person. But as the DM is the one who is controlling the game and the one who is assessing the players actions then ultimately it is the point of view of the DM which the players will be measured by and thus it should be made clear in advance how the game will see things.

In this way it is no different than the author of a book. The author is the one making the judgement calls and will write a book in a manner that portrays the actions that are taken in the way that they see it. While one author may write about stealing and how bad it is, ultimately making sure those who steal suffer for it, another author may write about stealing as being justified and write about it completely differntly as a necessry evil. The player (reader) simply chooses whether they accept this point of view and continued to play (read) knowing this to be the case.

But the counter to what you have said is that with all of this debate going on in the game, it means that a player can make certain choices, claiming that they are good in making those choices and yet continue to commit great evil while doing it. You end up with assassins who claim to be good yet take money for killing people, paladins who steal from the poor, etc, etc, etc. The players take actions, they "debate it in-game" and you end up losing the session to a squabble about whether they can justify their own actions because you have now said alignment is open for discussion during play!!

I think you are forgetting the very words of the player's handbook which can't state clearly enough. Being of a certain alignment doesn't mean that every action you take must follow that alignment. Everybody is free to act in any way they choose, but if you repeatedly act against your alignment, we simply change your alignment to reflect how you are acting. Of course there is a very large gray area in there as to whether actions go one way or another, in those cases I would say if its too difficult to work out what alignment a certain action is then you just make it neutral (or no effect), but there are other actions which clearly show an alignment and if those actions are taken over and over again then the DM would have no choice but to show a change.

An example from my own role-playing history. A person always had the idea of being Lawful Good, so they made their character a Paladin. Throughout the adventure he never passed an opportunity to open a door, look in a chest or search a room to see what he could find. The problem was that these doors, chests and rooms all belonged to someone else.

What would you do in that situation? Would you consider alignment a non-issue and allow them to keep disrespecting everybody elses property and steal everything in sight? Would you debate this right in the middle of a game? Or would you tell the player after they have done this a few times that their alignment has shifted slightly towards being neutral because the act of taking something that belongs to someone else from their room is not a lawful or a good act?

This is the reason why some classes have alignment restrictions. Seeing a character of that class continually committing certain acts just destroys all belief in what that class would really be like simple because alignment has been made a non-issue and thrown out.

Allow me to ask a simple question. Is it even possible to show you a reason to support alignment? It does appear to me that you have already made your mind up to the point where no amount of proof at all would alter your point of view. I can see times when alignment falls down and places where it doesn't fit or doesn't work, yet I struggle to find any time when you have said alignment can indeed have place where it works.

That you are of the belief that my logic is based around insight into characters only highlights this. Alignment is not valuable because of insight, alignment is valuable in providing the DM with a tool to let the characters know when they are straying from what would be considered appropriate for the aligment they have chosen.

Read my example above about the paladin. Everybody has a similar view of what the paladin is about and how they would act. If a person plays a paladin in a way that completely goes against this then they become unbelievable and the whole point in playing them is lost. Without alignment or at least something which approximates alignment there isn't much point in having a class that has this core belief. Ok so they follow a code, does that mean they rape and pillage when it falls outside their code but remain straight and true when its inside the code? Again this makes for totally unbelievable characters.

And if you find that kind of "moral certitude" disturbing, then you must be disturbed by 90% of the movies out there as they generally tend to do this very thing and for some strange reason millions of people enjoy it immensely as a result. Exceptions to the rule are great, but it is only an exception because it goes against what would normally be considered the easily identifiable difference between light and dark.

I have absolutely no problem with shades of gray. When given 2 choices you can see and understand its a shade of gray but ultimately you still have to pick one path or another. That you picked a path doesn't mean you aren't comfortable... it simply means you don't throw your hands up in the air, complain that there are only 2 paths and spend the rest of your life sitting at the cross roads mumbling about how it doesn't work and refuse to choose ;)

Hit points (whatever you feel about them) serve a function. They help you determine when your character becomes dead or incapacitated. It is my opinion that being able to determine if your character is dead or alive is an important ingredient in a role-playing game.

Armor Class serves a function. This number is a weird amalgam of how hard you are to hit and how well protected you are. Although it is a stupid rule it still serves a function that I believe adds to the game. It makes some characters less susceptible to physical attack. By doing this some characters are better in combat.

Experience points serve a function. They determine (poorly) when your character can advance their skills. Tying the in-game action to the improved prowess of your character is certainly debatable, but the advancement of the character is an element that I believe belongs in the game.

Alignment serves no valuable function. It makes a character "eligble" for certain classes and makes them the target of or immune to certain magical effects. I don't see a value in that. Can we debate this point? Why do I want to make certain characters susceptible to magical ethical powers? That's the crux of this. I don't care to debate how good/bad the alignment system is, because as you say it is far too open to interpretation. I want to know what the people who like alignment get out of using it. How does it improve the game?

"This is why I keep harping on about how much alignment is the result of what you put into it."

...and I keep asking, "What do you get out of it?" What function does it serve?

You start with "it serves no function" and then wonder why I keep saying if you dont see value in it then you wont find value in it.

Alignment serves exactly the same function that Hit Points do. They are both indicators of some aspect about your character. Neither of them in and of itself really does anything (ie if your HP are low it doesn't change anything about your character), but other mechanics use them.

Does having hit points improve the game? Its the same with alignment. Simply having something doesn't necessarily improve the game, but it stops the game from becoming unworkable. I know people who play without hit points, but I question how they know when their character would be close to dying. The exact same thing applies to alignment. You can play without alignment, but how would you know if you are doing things that are completely contrary to the character you have created?

I gave a perfect example with the Paladin opening every door and chest that they came across. Without alignment nobody can say that isn't something a paladin would do, but with alignment the DM can adjust their alignment to reflect their actions... exactly as hit points are adjusted after every wound to reflect your health.

From a role-playing perspective, alignment is another tool the DM can use to provide alternative routes to solving a problem. Just as classes or skills or feats can be used, so too can alignment. You have a goal to achieve, the fighter could go in the front door, while the rogue sneak in, or the wizard teleport in. All 3 are viable options and come with their own pros and cons and are suited to different types of characters.

The same goes for skills. The rogue could pick the lock, but the fighter doesn't have that skill, he could jump the chasm to get to the goal.

Alignment provides exactly the same kind of role-playing choice as that. Lets say a certain person has a key which you need. The good person must make the choice of whether to try and get it from them in a respectful way or go against thier normal beliefs and steal it from them, while the evil person has no compunction and would just take it. The lawful person must struggle with whether breaking the law by stealing the key is worth the eventual outcome that they believe will happen, while the chaotic person might just do it their way with or without the key. All of these options come with alignment effects, and while none of them may actually change a persons alignment, continuing ot act in certain ways could eventually make their alignment change.

So you present the players with moral and ethical dilema's, that come with certain rewards but also have pros and cons to them.

To me that is an absolutely fantastic role-playing device which expands the normal class/race/feat/skill obsticles that most boring role playing modules put before you and opens up opportunities that have a real world effect. There is no "risk" in picking a lock, no detriment suffered for doing so without alignment. Who cares if you bash down a door when there is no thought given to who the door belongs to and whether its right to just go breaking it down.

I once had a grimmoire in an adventure I ran, which provided the player with unimaginable magical power, but it slowly corrupted them and turned them evil. They found it the most enjoyable encounter to actually have to weigh up whether the magical power gained was worth becoming evil as a result (he was a good role-player and loved the challenge of having to adjust his character based on alignment). He decided he didn't want to lose being good but more and more obsticles in his way required the magical power to overcome. It almost became like an addiction where he eventually destroyed the book at the point where he became neutral. The way he role played it was great. He said he felt his care and respect for people slipping, found himself starting to become more and more apathetic to those around him and thought more and more of himself before others. It was at that point that he realised that even though he had initially chosen to use the book's magic for good, the fact he cared less and less about others meant that eventually he would no longer see the need to use it for others which defeated the original purpose.

He saw value in alignemnt and he made it an enjoyable part of the game that had more function than hit points or experience or armour class. In that game it was all about the struggle within himself and about the choice between having great power and holding onto what made him who he was.

I can come up with at least another half dozen experiences just like this one which are all completely and totally based on alignment. I think it is far more valuable than a person suddenly hitting 10,000xp and magically having their head filled with knowledge they never knew.

Don't you?

"You start with "it serves no function" and then wonder why I keep saying if you dont see value in it then you wont find value in it."

The nature of discourse is to put forth a proposition and then offer evidence to support it. Please drop this preposterous rhetoric from your posts.

"whether they can justify their own actions because you have now said alignment is open for discussion during play!!"

No, he said that ethics were open for discussion during play.

"Without alignment nobody can say that isn't something a paladin would do, but with alignment the DM can adjust their alignment to reflect their actions."

Don't you see how alignment interferes with what you want here? You want to ensure that Paladins are paragons of goodness. Rather than defining how a Paladin should behave because of their code of conduct, you are arguing that it is better to assign a label to them and then make sure they adhere to the label. You are now role-playing two steps removed from the action that you want. Defining the ethics of a Paladin does not require alignment -- just thought and prepartion.
By the way, why are Paladins held to a higher moral standard than Priests? Priests receive a greater portion of their power from Holy/unholy sources than Paladins do. I suspect it is partly because in D&D there is a tighter alignment restriction on Paladins. Players not used to engaging with the story then play against the rules not the game. This is how alignment separates the players from the game. Remove it and they are forced to interact directly with the setting. You probably want to find reasons as to why Paladins should be more Holy than Priests. Don't bother. It is a matter of opinion. My point is that adherence to alignment makes you far less likely to ask the question.

"alignment is another tool the DM can use to provide alternative routes to solving a problem."

Again you are confusing ethics and alignment. A character can have ethics without having an alignment; they can have beliefs; they can have a personality.

I see your point though. Without an alignment it will be hard for the DM to admonish and punish players who aren't playing to type. I mean what would happen if somebody who was supposed to be good did bad things? Certainly there should be a mechanism built into the game to thwart this. This way players can feel the hand of God directly upon their characters at all times. Interesting.

"He said he felt his care and respect for people slipping, found himself starting to become more and more apathetic to those around him and thought more and more of himself before others. It was at that point that he realised that even though he had initially chosen to use the book's magic for good, the fact he cared less and less about others meant that eventually he would no longer see the need to use it for others which defeated the original purpose."

That entire sequence can be played without alignment.

The point I can't escape is that alignment gives the DM a control mechanism over the players. By allowing the DM to rule over their alignment and "re-assign" players into another category the DM can take power away from characters with alignment restrictions.

Is this the only function of alignment?

I have dismissed some of your other functions. Can I use an analogy as an example. Suppose their was a contest between two cities to get a ball into a goal. One ball, two goals, and a very big field. Inhabitants of both cities flooded onto the field. You are suggesting that the game cannot be played unless every player is issued a jersey of a particular colour. I say they don't need one. The outcome of the game is dependent upon which goal the ball ends up in. It doesn't matter how it gets there. You want to add rules, lots of them. Your first rule becomes the justification for your second rule which predicates your next one.

Firstly I am not talking about objective alignment. I have always said that it should be something discussed prior to the game about what judgements are made in relation to alignment by the DM who is running the game. It can never be objective because it is always the subjective view of the person. But as the DM is the one who is controlling the game and the one who is assessing the players actions then ultimately it is the point of view of the DM which the players will be measured by and thus it should be made clear in advance how the game will see things.

Then you are talking about objective alignment. Outside of the game world, it is subjective - it is a matter of the referee's judgement, as you say, perhaps in consultation with the players.

But within the game world itself, it is objective. If every spellcaster who does a Detect Evil spell on someone gets the same result, then it is a quantity that can be objectively determined within the game, regardless of anyone's 'moral reference frame'. It's as absolute and invariant a quantity within the game world as the speed of light is in ours.

Go back and re-read my post and you'll see that I was referring to alignment being objective within the game world. Not in the real world. I was quite specific about that.

The players take actions, they "debate it in-game" and you end up losing the session to a squabble about whether they can justify their own actions because you have now said alignment is open for discussion during play!!

The fact that you consider an in-game, in-character debate between player characters as 'losing a session', quite simply indicates that we have very different ideas about what constitutes enjoyable roleplay.

I'm not saying that you are wrong to use alignment. I'm just saying that it's a style choice - and one that perhaps shouldn't have been quite so firmly entrenched in the core rules, given that it is so hotly contested by so many.

Firstly, I find it strange that you hate the word "alignment" and yet you seem to be perfectly fine with the words "moral" and "ethical". So its not ok to have an alignment, but it is ok to use morals and ethics?!?!

I think the hang up is not with the concepts that it represents but in the use of the word. How about if I remove the word "alignment" and just say "moral orientation" and "ethical orientation"? Does that make things more bareable?

I will use your analogy as an example to indicate the same thing back to you. Each of those cities is controlled by a DM who must indicate what each of the players are doing. Each city has its own culture and law and general "feel" about it and the citizens of those cities are pretty much "standard" for that city. How then do you provide the DM with an indication of how they play? How do you let him know that one side plays dirty while the other are good sports?

If the player was one of the players on one side and he has the ball and is confronted by someone on the other side, how would you as the DM play them out?

What if the player has gone to great lengths to create a character which he says has sparkling hair, is like a god on the field and is the idol of thousands of young citizens who look up to him and then when on the field starts playing dirty. There will be times when something comes up that doesn't fall easily into his "code of conduct"... what do you do then? Is everything that falls outside of the code of conduct fair play? To they simply adhere to the code of the sport and act in one way and then act like a split personality doing things totally differently in every other way?

You keep using words like "control" and "rule over". That is your percpetion of what I have been clearly saying is "guide" and "feedback". As I said in advance, discussions of ethics and morals should be done outside of the game. There is no place in the middle of a session to start debating what it is to be good or evil, that is something that should be clarified long before you even get to the table. Once that has been clarified, the players clearly have accepted this (otherwise why would they play), and thus the DM uses the results of that discussion to guide players who have stated they are following a specific path. It is the players who choose the path, the players who choose their actions, and the players who choose when to break them. The DM is not controlling anything, nor is he ruling it over them. Throughout the adventure the DM informs the player as he sees them drift from what they said they would be and it is completely and totally up to the player to decide if they want to move back to the path they chose or go a different path.

I really am completely confused as to how you can keep ignoring this and instead fall back on "control" and "rule over". I can only presume that this is the reason you dislike alignment, because you see it only as a means of control instead as a means of the player and DM being able to communicate via the concept of alignment.

If as you said "You can do that without alignment", then clearly it isn't making it worse to have it there is it? Alignment is a concept that can work. I have showed you examples where it does, and where it can be used as a fantastic tool like skills or feats. If you choose to still see it as pointless and cannot understand how it adds an additional layer of choice and risk/reward then I am sorry to say that is your loss... not mine.

Have you ever heard of not blaming your tools?

"Firstly, I find it strange that you hate the word "alignment" and yet you seem to be perfectly fine with the words "moral" and "ethical". So its not ok to have an alignment, but it is ok to use morals and ethics?!?!"

It is not the word "alignment" I have a problem with. It is the rule.

"Each of those cities is controlled by a DM who must indicate what each of the players are doing. "

That can be done by using words. Put them together into sentences and they can convey a whole range of emotions and ideas.

"How do you let him know that one side plays dirty while the other are good sports?"

I don't have to, because you just did. You defined something about about their personality and you didn't even assign them an alignment. Amazing.

"What if the player has gone to great lengths to create a character which he says has sparkling hair, is like a god on the field and is the idol of thousands of young citizens who look up to him and then when on the field starts playing dirty. There will be times when something comes up that doesn't fall easily into his "code of conduct"... what do you do then?"

What Gilgamesh does:

The people of the city respond to the character's actions in-game. Some follow this new behaviour and emulate their hero. Others turn from the hero in anger and disgust, perhaps forming their own factions.

What Enigmatic does:

Turns to a mechanism called alignment and warns the player that their conduct does not fit the original direction of their character. Should their indescretion continue then they can lose powers related to their chosen profession.

"I have showed you examples where it does, and where it can be used as a fantastic tool like skills or feats. "

No you haven't.

"There is no place in the middle of a session to start debating what it is to be good or evil, that is something that should be clarified long before you even get to the table."

This is a world where you can explore dungeons, fight opponents, and gather riches. It is not a world that I find compelling. In a morally inert landscape the dungeon loses the true danger -- the ability to change, warp, or corrupt in slow degrees the heart of the explorer. An epic opponent is one who through reflection foils the character; a character who through subtle turns can become what he seeks to destroy.

I see what you are saying regarding objective alignment now in relation to the game world. Personally I wouldn't see it that way, but I can see how you would.

Imagine you are a character who is dying. You wonder if you are going to go to heaven or hell. Where you end up is indeed an objective decision. If we could translate this to the real world (and of course assuming your religious beliefs did indeed lean in that direction) then exactly the same objective decision would result. You would either end up in one place or another. Where you end up would be considered the "tally of your deeds" in a way.

So instead of viewing alignment as being objectified by spells, I see alignment as being a physical force in exactly the same way that shadow or ether or the elements are. The actions you take "taint" you with the alignments associated with those actions. This is the way that I have chosen to explain how it all works, how magic detects it, how people radiate it, how the outer planes are made of it. Its for this reason that I see a Lawful Good Paladin having the ability to do the things he does, and why losing that alignment means he can no longer do it.

D&D is certainly moving in this direction, especially now with 4E and the fact that even fighters will have their own kind of magic (albeit a physical kind). Everything in the world is magical and mystical and alignment to me is no different.

I do agree that alignment is a style choice, which is why I disagree with the author in saying the problem lies with alignment itself. It might not be your style... but that doesn't make it wrong.

Clearly we do not see the same thing. I have shown you examples where putting moral/ethical choices to players which has a risk/reward associated with it can be done and where the outcome can be enjoyable to play.

That you choose to ignore all of those examples and say I haven't shown you is your personal perception.

Our conversation is over. I appreciate your time and effort, but I see an orange, you see an apple.

"That you choose to ignore all of those examples and say I haven't shown you is your personal perception."

I really don't see how your examples were on point. Ethics and alignment aren't the same thing. I was honestly interested to see if I had your position correctly stated in my above post.

Out of respect if you want to end the conversation, that's fine. I hope you harbour no resentment. I have always found this forum to be a place where people can wrestle with an opinion or concept. Thanks for your posts and I look forward to discussing other topics with you.

My position:

Alignment: Alignment is a rule that classifies every inhabitant of the world into nine ethical categories. Certain spells and effects function differently against certain categories. Also certain classes must remain true to their classification. The categories are built out of the combination of five words.

Ethics: The beliefs and moral attitude of a character. This can be described in any way the players or DM see fit.

Since it seems this (The longest thread on Gamegrene, I believe) discussion is about to end, I thought I'd put in an observation I've made that might prolong it a little (maybe we can break some kind of Guiness record):

I agree with Enigmatic that the Alignment can be a useful descriptor to a GM or player, possibly giving a character a moral and ethical direction that could add to (or ease) roleplaying said imaginary person (whether it's a straight-up value, or a collation of numerous previous acts).
However, like Gilgamesh, I think a Myers-Briggs-like construct (or ,as Gil puts it, "words and sentences") could be just as useful for that purpose (depending on the kind of question you want answered [For example: "Is my character going to help a starving citizen although he's doing something else right now?" might be more easily answered by the fact that he's LG; but "Is my character going to approach that band of strangers and offer her help?" may be easier to answer if you know she's Introverted])

Where I dislike the Alignment system is, as mentioned before, with its application as a quantifiable component in the game world. Dragging out the beaten corpse of Detect Evil once again, I'd say this is annoying and restrictive if it consistently impacts the actions of characters (i.e. they attack the guy with the Evil tag) or, alternatively, redundant and unneeded if not ("well, he registers as Evil, but he might be repenting, so let's not kill him").
In the same way, I'd object to spells and conditions affecting the game with another such model (e.g. a Protection From Intuitives spell).

Now, whether one decides to use such a construct (alignment, Myers-Briggs or whatever) or not, you could still have monks (paladins) and so on in your game if you replace the "Is he being Lawful (Good)" ladder with "Is he adhering to code X?" where X is Whatever You As A GM Want, and can be very very specific (keeping Kosher) or very broad (maintaining a positive attitude), allowing more variety in your game, I think, than just the alignment.

" "Is he adhering to code X?" where X is Whatever You As A GM Want, and can be very very specific (keeping Kosher) or very broad (maintaining a positive attitude), allowing more variety in your game, I think, than just the alignment."

That is what I prefer. It keeps ethics in the game world. At the start of this latest round of discussion I referred to alignment as an "Ugly Carapice" that interferes with the ethics of the game. It is a poor label that envelops the character and stops you from seeing the true character underneath.

I am a firm believer in rule transparency -- that a rule that does not interfere with the play of the game is always preferable to one that does. An ideal rule is invisible. You never see people in character change what they are doing based on the rule, only on the in-game action. This covers all things from skill and weapon selection to combat actions.

One example of a less than ideal rule would be "Hit Points." It is very common to see characters withdraw from battle when they are low on hit points. Typically in the narrative, they have not received any debilitating wounds. We accept (if we play D&D) that it is okay for a character playing in role to withdraw because they are close to death. However, in the game world they are not substantially injured (no broken bones, no critical loss of blood). The only thing they are short on are hit points -- whatever those are. This is the point where the rule jumps into the narrative and begins to warp the game.

Alignment is my least favourite rule because it interferes with the story in the same way that hit points do, but there is no upside. Taking alignment out of the game doesn't eliminate moral challenges and debates; in fact, it makes them clearer. When you take out hit points you don't know when characters are incapacitated, you mess up the game balance between fighters and other classes, and you can't determine the effect of spells and weapons (Hmmm.. guess we better leave it in or completely re-write the rules).

I've been playing ruleset 3.5 recently and have noted that there are a lot of "5' steps," "withdrawing," and "flanking" happening at the war-game table. I try to stay in character and describe what I do, letting the DM interpret if I am entitled to any situational modifiers. I prefer not to game the rules and become a "five-foot stepper." I do this so that I can peel back the battlemat and play in the world beyond. I sit beside my new friends who are playing the miniatures game and have the rule tactics down to a fine science. We both have fun, although I suspect they think I am a bit daft (no applause Enigmatic :)).

No resentment, just a little disappointment that there was not mutual benefit from the discussion.

I like to present players with as many options as possible, and I like those options to have meaning in some way.

Front Door
Requires combat, must have good fighters but run the risk of dying if things get out of hand. If the guards are innocent then this also runs the risk of not being the most moral thing to do, but you could be short on time so is disrespecting the guards and possibly hurting/killing them enough to outweigh the purpose for doing it?

Must have the skills to succeed, otherwise this isn't an option. Run the risk of being discovered and then having to face the guards which basically puts you back at the front door. But this may be the "good" option because you dont hurt anyone with this approach. Not very ethical though as you are breaking into someones house to do it.

Need to have the knowledge and magic. Might cost a bit more in obtaining the information you need to get in there. Do you fork out the money or do you try to intimidate/torture people to get it? Torturing would be easier but it isn't the nicest thing in the world to do.

You could try to persuade your way in, will take a lot longer than other approaches due to the set up but could make you more entrenched that you have made a guard a friend. Not very ethical to use a friendship like that, you are still deceiving them, but is it the lesser of two evils?

Inside Man
You hold the family of one of the guards to ransom and get them to do the dirty work for you. You dont have to get involved at all, run no risk of being caught or harmed and it should be the quickest means of getting what you want because they know the guard. Of course this is the lowest and most depraved way of going about it.

So the character stands before the task assessing their class abilities, their strengths and weaknesses, their skills, their morals and their ethics. Some of these are a case of simply not posessing what is necessary to go down that path, others is a case of the chance of success not being sufficient to try, others may not fit into time constraints, and one very specific one is a choice of whether the cost of choosing that path is worth the gains they expect to take.

In isolation that may not seem like much, but the more they are presented with choices like "take the easy way out but its messy or do it the hard way but its the right thing to do" the more they shape their character and their character is shaped with it.

I know you dont see a need to use alignment to do any of this, but I see alignment as a valuable tool that aids in this purpose. I dont see every character falling into one of 9 categories because any specific action (beyond those which are extreme like killing innocents etc) is simply one of many and only the sum of all of their actions gives you a rough idea about the path they are taking. At any time they can step out, step back, or even go completely against what the ethos says... its when they keep doing it repeatedly that things need to change.

Thats how I see it, thats how I play it and so far nobody has ever had a complaint.... in fact most of the comments I get back are along the lines of "Wow! Now I can see the value in alignment. I couldn't see it before, but this is great!".

Each to their own I guess. For some the categories limit them, for others the categories define them and give them a basis from which to grow.

Amazing how one little section of the game can be so many different things to so many different people.

I like some of your examples, so I am going to use them in the context that I would use it in a game and fully using alignment as I believe it was intended to be used.

"Is my character going to help a starving citizen although he's doing something else right now?"

Your character is LG. That in no way predicates what the character will do. It doesn't mean they will automatically help, nor does it mean they will always turn it down. Everything has context. Is the something else they are doing more significant than helping a starving citizen? Is there a time restriction which could be at risk if they stopped? What is the relationship the person has to the citizen?

Ultimately however none of that matters. Here is a person in need, one of the "weak" that those who follow the good ethos have sworn to protect and to help. Altruism, respect, the sanctity for life are all parts of a good person. I think we can all absolutely agree that in isolation, that helping that person is a good thing, and that not helping that person isn't evil, but it certainly isn't good. I think we can also agree that unless the character is somehow in charge of giving out food then ethics really dont come into this situation.

So clearly the situation in isolation is a moral choice. For me, regardless of what alignment they were, if they chose to help the citizen then I would see a very small shift in their alignment towards good, and if they ignored them it would be a very small shift towards neutral (if they are already neutral or evil then no effect).

This is where I think it all works. If the person was heading to do some great good and ignored the citizen because they felt the issue was small compared to the greater good then ultimately when they actually do that greater good the shift would be a larger one towards good. So the net total of the action would be towards good. If however they stopped and helped the citizen and then still managed to go on and do the greater good then their shift would be even more towards good.

So ultimately, they could choose whatever action they want, none of them are tied into an alignment, they are not forced to act one way or another, there are no restrictions, there is just a simple consequence to their action.

Now if that very same character just kept running passed starving people every single time they came across them, and it started to become a habit that this person ignored those around them crying out for help then all of those very small shifts towards neutral would eventually add up. It is quite clear from the actions of the player that the moralistic view of the person has changed. They are no longer respecting the sanctity of life, no longer defending the weak, in fact its plainly obvious that whenever someone innocent is in need of help they will walk by without stopping.

Clearly a person cannot be good if they keep doing this, and so their alignment should reflect this.

Alternatively, they could be someone who ignores the little guy, and does nothing but charge into the fray with the "big evil". The fight the big fights but overlook the little guy. Does that mean they are not good? Of course not, but they are a different kind of good. Ultimately they still retain their good alignment because the sum of their actions is indeed on the side of good. So they ignore the peasantry and the woes of the little man, they are the ones risking their lives to save the world from great evil that would consume those same people, thus ultimately helping them in a way.

Again see how alignment hasn't restricted anything, not influenced action, nor been a pain in any way. Its the sum of their actions (which any deity will weigh up before allowing them into their realms when they die) which matters.

Detect Evil

Now I am going to turn everything on its head. A group of adventurers come across a man in sparkling armour, though his face certainly isn't sparkling. They watch him fight against some evil force and defend innocents who are helplessly at the mercy of this evil. He risks his life and selflessly throws himself into the battle. The group lend a hand and in helping, one of the wizard's casts "Protection from Evil". To their amazement the man in armour cries out and begs the party to stand back and to not interfere.

They do so, the evil is defeated by the man in armour and out of curiosity a "Detect Evil" is cast on him. Yep... he is evil!

So the group draw swords, all ready to cut him to pieces because after all, he is evil! But they just watched him protect the innocent, defend the weak, risk his life to save others. How can this be?!? Like the GOOD people that they are, who would never just attack someone simply because a spell tells them something ;) , they approach the man and ask him to explain himself.

The man relates to them a sad tale of his fall from grace, of how he was once a paladin who fought for what is just and true. Of how he was convinced that a person was evil (he didn't know it was the ring in the victim's pocket that radiated evil) and as such cut him down on the spot. The act of killing an innocent tainted him with evil, and though his view didn't change, his beliefs were no different, the undeniable fact remained that for his sins he must now wear this taint. So he has dedicated his life to righting the wrong that was done, of learning from his mistake and to regain who he once was.

The one lesson that he can pass on to the group is simple:

"Magic is not fallable. While it might give you the absolute truth of the matter, there is nothing worse than believing absolute truth because it no longer has a human face. Magic can tell you right from wrong, it can tell you what it is and what it was, it can even tell you where it might go... but one thing magic can never tell you is WHY, and that is the most important thing to know"

This is where the group has to decide. Is he telling the truth or is this a fabrication? Do they sense motive to try and work out if he is lying? Do they weigh up his actions? Is it an ellaborate hoax set up to fool them into thinking this person who clearly is evil isn't?

Imagine the role-playing possibilities in this alone, how the group may go about trying to get to the bottom of it. If they kill this person because he is evil, then the innocents he just saved (who don't know better and have no clue that Detect Evil was cast or what the answer was) will brand them murderers and think that they are evil, their village sending its greatest warriors to hunt them down for killing a heroic man in cold blood. If they let him live are they letting a great evil continue to charm its way into the world?

This was why I said any DM that would simply allow a player to cast Detect Evil and make a choice solely on that isn't doing their job. Here you instantly put doubt into the mind of the player, you make them realise that the spell is just a tool to help them, not to make their mind up for them. It isn't a case of always killing evil people or always being redundant. It becomes one piece of evidence that the players put together to solve the mystery.

Honestly... this is why I am struggling to see why you guys are so absolutely focused on lynching alignment. It feels like a witch hunt to me where alignment is the poor sod who has to burn for crimes it didn't commit. I see alignment being the basis for so many amazing opportunities for role-playing it isn't funny. That you all see it as being restrictive, stifling, unnecessary or irrelevant is like throwing away a diamond because you can't see it sparkle.

But maybe I am the odd one out here.... What I can't help but think is that I am trying to show you value in something which hopefully would enrich your experiences, while you are trying to tell me something I have already found valuable is not as valuable as I think and trying to say it should't exist. (Note I didn't say you are trying to tell me to drop it, I know you have all said "if it works for you")

I get the whole "rule transparency" thing, and in fact I agree with you completely on it.

Sadly however I think that you can't be a champion of rule transparency and play D&D at the same time. There are just too many things like HP, AC, XP and everything else which defy it that to single out something like Alignment feels as if the poor thing is being picked on.

I think that is one thing you have to just accept when playing D&D. Sure make your own house rules, I am all for that, but I think you make those rules where you can't use what is already there. For you guys that means throwing out Alignment, but for me it means using it how I believe they intended it to be used.

Gilgamesh... I use the name "Enigmatic" and you think I would applaud someone for calling you daft?!?! Consider it me being polite to myself instead of what other people tend to call me which ranges from "mad" to "wierd" to "in a world of your own". ;)

Take for instance the usual statement people say to me "You only see things in black and white". To others that may be how they see me, but to me what is black or white but a final decision as to which way you fall? Give me a slightly similar situation and I may fall the other way. So put to me a multiple of thousands of slightly similar situations and half will be black and half will be white. Now look at the sum of those blacks and whites all mixed together and what colour do you see? Grey!

Another example. Someone explains to me a given situation. I say Black. They then add to that situation with more facts. I now say white. They add more, Black, more, White, more, still White, more, Black. To them I am still a "black and white" person, but for me I simply reach a decision based on the information that I have been given at the time. Add to that information and the way I view it may change. Its never absolute (I find it boring to add the caveat of "I am 95% sure" on the end of everything I say), and it is always open to change. The more I explain this to someone the more they realise it just doesn't fit into their conceptual framework of what is black and white or what is grey.... so their answer? "Your in a world of your own"

Regarding the first part of your post: It seems to me that the use of alignment only as an accumulated "point grade" of a character is extraneous and unnecessary. No reason to keep using it if "they could choose whatever action they want, none of them are tied into an alignment".
Your case in point regarding Detect Evil seems to be doable without the Detect Evil spell, or alignment, at all. Suppose the PCs are sent after this man by someone for killing said innocent only to then watch him fight selflessly in others' defense, as suggested. I think the moral dilemma would remain the same, with the same touching personal story, without need for the artificial tag that is alignment. Unless you specifically aim to point that dissonance regarding divination magic, that is, but that can also be done otherwise.

There is a difference between being allowed to do whatever you want (menaing you are neither limited or restricted in any way), and there being no consequences to the actions you choose to do. This is the biggest misconception people have about alignment. They think that just because they are LG they must make every single action they take an LG action. The fact that people make comments like "There are only 9 types of people" or that its restrictive or that it limits them proves this.

You can take whatever action you want, but those actions have consequences and if you want to maintain a specific alignment then in all honesty you should "generally" be doing things that reflect that. That doesn't mean you can't stray now and then, just that you don't do it repeatedly.

As for Detect Evil. I have to chuckle to myself about this point. If its doable without it, then its doable with it, which means there isn't a problem with alignment. Any part of the D&D game is "doable" without the rule, do we throw the whole thing away and just do diceless role-playing? But the point I was making about this was to hopefully nullify once and for all the very unrealistic counter-point people love to bring up about detecting evil then killing it. Its like one of those favourite chestnuts that no matter how much it is dispelled it keeps coming back, not because there is any validity in it (as proved with the story), but because it "sounds" like the most plausible way to discredit something that is personally disliked.

If you have ever read Terry Goodkind's "Sword of Truth" series you will know exactly what I mean. Wizard's First Rule: People will believe what they FEAR is true or what they WANT to be true. When rhetoric like that is frequently used, it smacks of them WANTING it to be true despite how many times different methods of overcoming it are provided.

It seems that the "new" rhetoric is becoming "You can do the same thing without alignment", as if somehow this justifies its removal even though the exact same qualifiers apply to just about every other part of the D&D system.

Rule transparency applies to most, bad uses of the mechanics applies to most, doing without the rule applies to most, Unrealistic applies to most.

Was there any other reason you are putting forward for why alignment is so bad that doesn't apply to pretty much the rest of the D&D system?

Any part of the D&D game is "doable" without the rule, do we throw the whole thing away and just do diceless role-playing?

Enig (can I call you Enig?), you know you're very quick to accuse others of characterising alignment in terms of absolute or extreme positions to suit their own viewpoint, but then you do the very same thing in your own arguments!

It's all a question of what you want to have structured in your game, isn't it? Combat is a competitive sort of activity - you are competing with your opponents in order to 'win' the combat. It's very difficult to adjudicate a competitive situation without any rules. The rules allow the referee to maintain a sense that he or she is being impartial. Furthermore, combat 'feels' like something that could be measured and weighed objectively, in terms of a set of objective rules (laws of mechanics). Never mind the fact that the D&D rules are a gross and unrealistic simulation of those physical laws - the feeling is still there that having those rules goes some way to imparting a sense of realism.

The rules on alignment do the opposite. They impose a structure on something that, in real life, has no objective structure that is 'provable' (and I use that word with a good deal of philosophical caution) by any sort of empirical measurement. And in doing so they drag the referee's judgement into the game world. So their effects on the game are quite different.

Any part of the D&D game is "doable" without the rule, do we throw the whole thing away and just do diceless role-playing?

  1. With respect, this is a straw man. The perspective offered here is that this mechanic adds nothing to the game. While it is true that any part of the system may be scrutinized, it is not true that every aspect of the system withstands scrutiny equally well. Your contention that alignment works for you is all very well and good, but you have not demonstrated why it is beneficial to those who have used it for decades and then ultimately discarded it. You say it is a 'useful tool.' Very well, but I think a nuanced conception of character is more useful by far. The character's Myers-Briggs value or alignment gives me very little to go on. The character's story is another thing entirely, a thing filled with plot hooks, motivations, and conflict.
  2. That's actually not a bad point - why use this system at all? This is a question I have asked myself many times, and - once again - leads to the very reason I am not much interested in 4e or any other iteration of the game that introduced me to roleplaying. My wife will not play D&D, though she gave it more than a fair chance. She's not interested in any RPG but Call of Cthulhu. But for my part, I find some of the objections you raise very valid: what about HP, XP, classes, levels, BAB, AC? I hate these mechanics equally, with the possible exception of the first two. For me, increasingly pressed for time and increasingly annoyed when my time seems wasted, it must be EFRP, GURPS, or a brand new system entirely. If D&D works for you - any edition of it - take it, again with my good wishes.

:) Thanks for the EFRP plug. www.epicfantasy.net

I dislike the D&D rules in the following order: Alignment, XP, AC, HP, Classes, Magic Items, Stats, Levels. I'm not sure what BAB is, but I probably don't like it much either.

After DMing for a long time, it gets frustrating having your ideas constantly formed into the D&D mould -- substantially altered and warped. And yes, ocassionally it descends into a mindless hack-fest when that was the furthest thing from your mind at the outset. I still play the game though, searching for those few things that make D&D the universal juggernaut, and keep the better games on the fringe.
My D&D days are certainly drawing to a close.

"I dislike the D&D rules in the following order: Alignment, XP, AC, HP, Classes, Magic Items, Stats, Levels. I'm not sure what BAB is, but I probably don't like it much either."

You know, it's very interesting that all of the things you hate most about D&D are the abstractions that are used to keep track of things mechanically, and in most cases, numerically.

I think the reason that people get so up in arms about Alignment, Hit Points, Experience Points, and the like is because they either can't or don't bother to seperate the abstraction from the in-game result. A good example is attack rolls: A 1st-level fighter isn't just making one swing at his enemy every six seconds, the attack roll represents the one swing that has a chance of hitting and dealing damage.

I think that all of these issues are merely symptoms of people playing the game backwards. Great multitudes of D&D players look at the game with the idea that the stats make their character. I don't presume to tell others how to have their fun, but I prefer to go at it the other way: the stats are derived from the characters.

It's really sad, in my opinion. Some many D&D players think in terms like "Sir William has a high Charisma, so he should be a leader and good with the ladies," which makes absolutely no sense outside of the mechanical rules context. Isn't it so much more solid to say, "Sir William gets around, and he's a man of action and decision, and so he should have a high Charisma." Or, to use the alignment example, "Sir William has high moral standards, but he doesn't have a problem bucking the law or authority, especially not when it interferes with his moral code. Sir William, then, should be Chaotic Good."

I've never really had a problem with Alignment, XP, Hit Points, whatever, because I don't really consider them important in the context of the story being told. They're tools used to define things for the sake of the rules, but they shouldn't be extrapolated beyond the rules themselves.

I've also been a proponant of the idea that when the rules of any game interfere with what the players are trying to accomplish, they should be set aside. I'm not referring to the specific goals of the player characters, but to the reason that everybody is sitting around the table rolling dice. If your goal is to have fun killing bad guys, then maybe Detect Evil radar-gaming paladins are the way to go. If your goal is to have a good time telling a good story, then anything that interferes with that should be ignored or replaced. That may mean house rules, and that may mean an entirely new system.

I think the reason that people get so up in arms about Alignment, Hit Points, Experience Points, and the like is because they either can't or don't bother to seperate the abstraction from the in-game result. A good example is attack rolls: A 1st-level fighter isn't just making one swing at his enemy every six seconds, the attack roll represents the one swing that has a chance of hitting and dealing damage.

I can make the separation, but am not willing to do so. Why should I? In GURPS, one round = 1 second. Swing! Parry/Block/Dodge? If not, Hit? If so, how much damage, to where, and with what effect?

These mechanics add to the narrative: "I parried the ogre's attacks until my sword broke" is a much more entertaining story than "the ogre flailed at me for rounds and rounds, but couldn't hit my AC of 25." This, incidentally, is why my wife won't play D&D: all the abstracted modifiers upon modifiers (almost) never lead to interesting stories. CoC, by contrast, uses an even more abstract combat system (BRP) that doesn't require her to become a tabletop tactician, and CoC has resulted in many great stories, not confined to my table.

In EFRP... well, see for yourself. Gil's ideas have the potential to revolutionize tabletop roleplay as we know it. Seriously.

Lurky... can I call you lurky?

You will notice that I only use that technique when responding to those who use it themselves. In this case, my response of throwing away everything was in response to someone saying you don't "need" alignment as if it somehow means that alignment is flawed because you don't need it. Seeing as that is the method by which they choose to communicate, I kind of feel I have to communicate via the same method. After all, they are hoping that I will understand their point of view by using it on me, so one would assume that such a method is the only thing that would be understood in return. Make sense?

(Please take that tongue-in-cheek)

Combat is a good example, however I do see it differently to you. We know for a fact that the rules are an extremely poor approximation to how it would actually be, we know that there are specific combinations which cause it to be unworkable and we also know that at the end of the day, no matter what the numbers say, the DM more often than not uses the "fudge" to use their own judgement on how it effects the game as a whole. The number of times this "objective rule" is thrown out because it ended the party's career early for the sake of the game is unmentionable.

What I do find interesting though, is that you do not see alignment as being measurable or weighable. Perhaps that is where the difference is coming in, and why I see it as being valuable for what it is and you cannot. We all have a fairly good idea about right and wrong, and there are some architypal actions which can always be associated with alignments. The good help and evil destroy (in a nutshell). So we are indeed measuring and weighing them.

If we leave alignment out of it and we have ethical and moral dilemas in the game, the DM still has to judge the actions of the characters in how they make the NPCs react to them. So in essence, you are still doing exactly what alignment does, except you are doing it from the viewpoint of the NPC. So a character takes an action, the DM "judges" whether the NPC considers that fair or a direct afront to them and they react accordingly.

The difference however is that in what I propose, the players are told upfront the general philosophy that is being used to make these judgements, how certain actions are viewed and how they will be weighed. Through the course of the adventure as checks and balances are made, the players get direct feedback as to how the DM sees them going based on this philosophy that has been stated at the beginning. Thus everybody knows and understands where they stand and during the down time they can consult the DM if they feel something needs discussing.

Without alignment however, where the DM's judgement is hidden behind subconscious choices they make on behalf of NPCs in the world that the characters interact with there is no understanding, no knowledge of what constitutes right or wrong, and because it has now been reduced to individualistic points of view the players will NEVER understand where the DM is coming from. Unless the DM is a fantastic method actor who is capable of changing his complete mindset with each new NPC, then the judgement placed on the characters actions will simply be his own subconscious moral/ethical beliefs.

I think the thing that needs to be remembered is that the DM will use judgement regardless, its whether that judgement is put out there for all to see or whether it is hidden away. I guess I have always made a point of every player knowing where I am coming from, I think it makes it easier to enjoy when you can get a feel for how the DM is controlling things. When a player is completely and utterly confused about where the DM is coming from, it makes it harder for them to enjoy the game because they are constantly confronted by unexpected judgements. These always deteriorate into discussions in the middle of a session such as the ones that were suggested are "good", that means play stops and players have to wait while the person who disputes the judgement tries to sort it out with the DM.

I dont see it as imposing structure, to impose means to not only tell them that they cannot do it, but to alter their choice so that it is not done. I see it as an author of a book explaining how the world they have created works.

As a prime example of this, look at a classic like "Dark Sun". Here stealing and death are part of the world, and the characters are far more part of "mother nature" than in other worlds. In this setting, killing someone for water would be considered "survival of the fittest" and not in any way be an evil act. It simply is part of the harsh world that has been created. In the realms the very same action would be considered the greatest evil, to kill an innocent person simply for water which could be obtained anywhere for free.

So how exactly is a structure imposed here? Guidance has been provided, and the player has complete and total freedom to act in any way they want. They are presented with the consequences to their actions and its up to them to decide what they want to do.

I respect your point of view, but I believe it does add to the game and while you may feel I have not demonstrated it, I believe I have demonstrated it over and over.

Its been my experience that when two people share completely opposing views and both feel they have clearly demonstrated those views, that we are talking subjective and not objective. If it were objective then one of us would have no choice but to either conceed or to point out the flaws in the others argument which were measurable. That we both point out the flaws in each others perspective and yet neither of us feel any flaw has been shown again it means we are being subjective.

In that light all we are doing is simply sharing with each other our "opinions" on the topic of alignment. You feel that it has no value "for you", and I feel that it has value "for me". I guess in a way I am not really allowed then (with this being subjective) to say that alignment works in any form of generalization, even though I can objectify alignment within my own campaigns, but equally that means you cannot say in a generalization that alignment offers nothing to the game.

But I guess that is fairly pedantic when you look at it. At the very least I guess I felt the need to balance an article about ditching alignment with advice on how to make it work. It just seemed a bit one sided for something that I personally believe has value.... for me at least ;)

I have always seen role-playing as two very distinct and seperate parts:

1. Mental (subjective)

No matter what system you play, or even if you play no system at all you have a character who has a story and takes actions. What you create in your mind and how the game plays out is all in the mind. What you do, how they react, the story they create, its all without limits and bounds and is shaped as you go through the journey.

2. Physical (objective)

This is the game system you use. It has mechanics and rules and it tries to provide some framework through which you will use the mental aspects of the game. This may change, evolve or even be non-present (such as diceless role-playing). The point here is that it really doesn't matter.. its just a syntax. While the rules between systems might be different, it will always be an approximation that at least has some kind of fairness to it. If part of the system isn't fair, then you fix it. There is no excuse here for problems as everything is objective and measured and where it doesn't work it is modified so that it does work or at least approximate it. (Perhaps that is why I have no problem with alignment as its the physical component created to reflect the mental actions taken).

So whether its D&D, or Rolemaster (my favourite), Gurps, Heroes or whatever.... Its just a system. While a bad system can bring down your enjoyment, as long as the system is fair and even then it really doesn't matter.

I started with AD&D, then quickly moved on to AD&D 2nd Edition. Loved it. I found Rolemaster and was wrapped, but few other people could play it and found it too pedantic in areas. So I switched to D&D 3E when it came out. It was an improvement over 2E so it was a good thing. Now with 4E coming out I kind of like the "feel" of where it is going. I can see how they are trying to make it more about the journey and less about the mechanics. I do feel its an evolution of the system and I know that I will look at it positively and make the best of it I can because that is what most people will understand and be playing.

I can't stress enough that you get out what you put in. You tweak it where you think it needs it, make a house rule here and there and your set.

A prime example of this is the Natural 1/20 rule. I disliked the fact that no matter how hard something was to do or fail that you always had a 5% chance of it. That seemed "unfair" to me that someone with a skill rank of 60 would fail 1 in every 20 times he tried something. So I changed it. I decided that if you roll a 1 or a 20 then you roll again and add/subject from the score. For every 1 or 20 you rolled you kept adding/subtracting until you got a final answer. To me this retained the original concept of how it works, plus reduced the chance of success/failure appropriately. In essence I made it workable in a way that suited.

I guess you could say that this whole article is about making it work and I fully commend Cocytus for attempting it. I guess for me the attempt is basically to eliminate it altogether instead of work within it. But that is a personal choice and as such I can't really put my own personal choice on another.

So in that respect I think the article has a lot of value and merit for those who are unable to work within alignment.