The Good, The Bad, And The Chaotic Neutral


Many role-playing games include a system meant to model the characters' moral compasses or beliefs (or lack thereof). But is such a mechanic really necessary in a roleplaying game? If so, what's the best way to implement it? I'll share my opinions on what works and what doesn't in my own gaming experiences; you can (and should!) do the same in the comments.

For most gamers, there comes a time when the numbers that delineate your character's attributes, skills, saving throws, and special abilities don't come close to describing everything about that character. Stats will tell you how hard your character's fists can hit their foes, or how good they are at casting magic spells - but they don't always tell you who your character would want to punch, or what might be a likely use for their spells. But we gamers have always loved to have things written out in black and white, which results in the creation of systems like D&D's alignment, meant to quantify a character's beliefs, morals, and behavior. Whether or not alignment or other morality systems are a necessary or good thing is a long-standing debate in the gaming community, and isn't really meant to be the point of the article you're reading now. Instead, the question I'm exploring today is twofold: What are alignment or morality systems good for in a game? And if you decide to use them, which one works the best?

Why bother having an alignment or morality system in the first place?

First off, why bother having an alignment or morality system in the first place when plenty of games get by without it? This is a question I'm often asking myself. I'll confess that, all other things being equal, I personally tend to prefer games without alignment - if only because I already try to consider my characters' moral and ethical stances when I'm playing them, even without a potentially flawed system to give me a mechanical or benefit for doing so. But at the same time, there are plenty of scenarios in which having a clearly defined alignment system can be a boon. For example, when playing a character whose beliefs differ from your own, alignment serves as a handy reminder of how your character might approach certain situations differently than you would. Similarly, I've found that when I'm stumped over how my character might respond to a particular challenge, looking to alignment can give me a hint of how she might respond. Finally, alignment can be a helpful tool for new or reluctant roleplayers who have trouble getting deeply into their characters' psyches without some sort of in-game mechanical reminder to serve as a jumping-off point.

So if alignment systems have a place in many different styles of gaming (and they do), which of the many options out there best rises to the challenge of helping players model their characters' belief systems? The first such system that most gamers probably think of comes from the game that popularized the word "alignment" in the first place - D&D. Even thirty years later, the nine alignments generated from the opposing axes of good vs. evil and law vs. chaos provide a simple, elegant, and easy-to-understand way of depicting a character's moral compass. It's no wonder that the general outline of what alignment is and how it works has persisted through all editions of D&D, and that so many other games have borrowed from this concept. For these reasons, the classic D&D alignment system often provides a good jumping-off point for incorporating codified character morality into a game.

Of course, this means that the alignment system has been around long enough for it to become one of the more resoundingly criticized aspects of D&D. Like any attempt to put a complicated real-world issue into simplified game terms, D&D's alignment system has been blasted for being overly limiting and simplistic. Indeed, at its worst, alignment can become a straitjacket, with bad DMs using alignment and sessions degenerating into endless debates about whether a certain action is really Lawful Good enough. Yet in my own experiences, the opposite has been much more common. My current D&D group pretty much ignores alignment except in the most general sense, which seems to be the trend in many groups. This begs the question, then, of what alignment is good for in the first place if many players elect not to make it very important to their games.

Another take on modeling character morality in RPGs is White Wolf's World of Darkness - both the original system and the revised Storyteller approach. For the most part, original WoD stayed away from an alignment or morality system. With the exception of Vampire's Humanity meter and to a lesser extent Werewolf's Renown system (both tools that was essential to the function and theme of the game), old WoD described character behavior and beliefs with a normally-not-alignment-implying Nature and Demeanor and allowed players to work out their characters' moral compasses on their own. But it's not so in the revision. In the new World of Darkness, characters of all types possess a Virtue and a Vice (basically, one of each of the seven deadly sins and the seven heavenly virtues) as well as a meter tracking Morality (or a similar virtue for supernatural types). Fulfilling either your character's Vice or Virtue earns him Willpower (much as fulfilling Nature worked in oWoD), while the Morality meter diminishes if your character carries out various unethical acts without remorse and rises if she redeems herself (though lowering it is much easier to do). Morality runs from ten (a living saint) to zero (a total sociopath) and tracks what is usually a long slow slide toward tiny little numbers, this being the World of Darkness and all.

I'm not crazy about nWoD's system.

It's hard to compare the two Worlds of Darkness in this respect due to the often substantial differences between the original games and their revised versions, but as a matter of personal preference I'm not crazy about nWoD's system. There are some very good aspects to the system; tying the morality system directly to useful in-game rewards like Willpower makes it automatically relevant and useful, and it and other standardizing measures across the WoD were very welcomed for those wanting to run crossovers without tearing their hair out. But in the end, Vice, Virtue, and Morality strike me as limiting in a way that D&D's alignment generally is not. In terms of Vice and Virtue, there's the question of how much standardization is too much. With seven of each, there are only 49 possible Virtue/Vice combinations, which nearly as reductionistic as D&D's alignment if not more so. Add to that the fact that certain combinations are much more likely to occur than others; a pack of "fighting type" werewolves in nWoD is likely to consist primarily of characters with the Fortitude Virtue and Wrath Vice, whereas the same pack in oWoD would still be unbalanced but have a higher chance of diversity of viewpoints and behaviors thanks to the more open Nature/Demeanor system. Moreover, what if you want to play a character from a non-Western culture, who may praise or revile traits that are totally different from the Eurocentric ones offered by the WoD?

Morality (or Humanity, or Wisdom, or Clarity, or whatever your game calls for) also suffers from many of the same problems that came along with Vampire: The Masquerade's Humanity system. Under the system as written, characters only lose dots in Morality if they don't feel sorry for the wrong they've done. Whether or not they feel sufficiently sorry is decided by a roll of the dice; if they don't, they risk gaining a psychological Derangement. Certainly involving dice in the equation makes the process seem more equitable, but it has always seemed to me that I'm a better arbiter of whether my character would regret a certain action than a handful of dice are. Also, not unlike D&D alignment, feeling bad about our characters' actions is something the nWoD Mage group I play in tends to ignore; we roll the dice and see a favorable result, say "oh, that's nice," and get on with the game without actually bothering to portray the guilt that the dice tell us our characters feel. We've also got at least one character who, thanks to occasionally flexible morals and poor rolling, is quickly becoming a walking talking mass of Derangements. Luckily for that player, he enjoys acting out the gaggle of neuroses he's acquired, but if it were someone else they might not be having nearly as much fun.

In my opinion, the World of Darkness Storyteller system does a better job of tying its morality system directly to gameplay than D&D does, but this approach has its own problems too. So I'm fortunate to have found a game system that, at least for me, gets the job done more successfully. That game is Unknown Armies, a criminally underrated and somewhat obscure modern fantasy/horror RPG. UA posits that each character possesses a rage stimulus (something that makes the character really angry), a fear stimulus (a phobia the character has), and a noble stimulus (a cause or belief that the character strongly supports). Like almost everything else in UA, the field is wide open in terms of defining what these stimuli might be. When a character encounters one of their stimuli, he gets a substantial stat boost if he wants to attack or destroy that rage stimulus, escape from that fear stimulus, or go the extra mile to fight for that noble stimulus. The end result is that all characters in UA, no matter how saintly or evil they might seem, are fully capable of violence and righteous fury, acts of supreme cowardice, and moments of utter heroism - not unlike real human beings. What's more, including the three stimuli at the beginning of character generation gets players thinking about what really motivates their characters, and displaying a much wider and deeper range of believable behaviors because of it.

Morality and character behavior in UA is also tied to five separate meters (Violence, Unnatural, Isolation, Helplessness, and Self) that behave like Sanity points on steroids, and have to do with how well the character copes mentally with the stresses of the crazy adventures all gaming characters eventually go through. I won't go into too much depth about this (awesome) system here, but suffice to say that the more exposure to weird and bad stuff a character has, the easier it is for that character to face similar stressors in the future. (Of course, too many failed rolls can also lead to psychological problems, but that's another issue entirely.) But at the same time, a character who spends too much time around heavy violence or supernatural stuff risks becoming a sociopath, unable to use their rage, fear, or noble stimuli at all.

Madness meters also add a fun element of randomness to shake things up.

The thing I love about the Unknown Armies way of approaching morality is that it's reasonably realistic while still being fun. It rewards players for gaming according to their characters' moral codes by making it easier for them to carry out actions that reflect their beliefs. Madness meters also add a fun element of randomness to shake things up. When a character fails a madness-related roll upon being exposed to a level of bad they've never seen before, the player chooses whether their character's resulting freak-out is panic (run away at top speed), paralysis (stand there frozen in terror), or frenzy (beat the hell out of it!). In the UA campaign I ran, my players had a great time with this aspect of the game; it gave them a choice over how to be scared while also acknowledging that in some circumstances, real people sometimes have uncontrollable reactions to the unknown. The rage, fear, and noble stimuli also do a great job of modeling the fact that drives both noble and base can coexist in the same person, which is perfect for UA's "shades of grey" approach. If UA's system has a flaw, it's that madness meters require a substantial amount of tracking on the part of the GM (as do many other aspects of UA). But that's a problem I'm willing to face for a system that really works for me.

So in the end, which morality system is the best? The answer to that question depends on your preferences and those of your gaming group. As for my players and I, we're perfectly happy with the lack of a morality system in the Serenity RPG (though not with other aspects of the system, which is definitely a topic for another time!). Unknown Armies is still my preference, but I get along fine in D&D and WoD when those systems are called for. And now I leave it up to all of you: What's your take on morality systems in RPGs? Necessary or not? What's worked and hasn't worked for you? Speak out in the comments, because in this case, there really is no right or wrong.

Alignment Systems are lame. Characters are good, orcs and stuff are bad thats all there is too it. If you ask me, The entire alignment thing is just D&D's half assed attempt to appease snooty roleplaying types.

That's funny, Gazgurk...I always saw alignment in D&D as being one of the elements that most reliably angered those "snooty roleplaying types" you mention (of which I am probably one). Care to elaborate?

Wel, the corollary to Gazgurks post would exist in my world. Orcs are pretty much neutral, and there are far more 'evil" humans than any other race. I also am certinly one of the snooty roleplaying types.

I agree with Gazgurk in one sense though...alignment systems are lame. I had too many things going on in my campaign that required alignment (items, races, motivations etc...Evil with a big E was just as much a force of nature in my setting as water or wind) to do away with it completely. Over the course of a many-years-long campaign (described in The World According To Scott Free), I had in game actions and events slowly but surely remove Big E Evil and Big G Good from the world.

I suppose that speaks to the point of the article. Alignment can be useful, maybe even essential, if the setting relies on Evil and Good (or Law and Chaos, or Butter and Margarine...whatever) as actual external forces. Certain races and creatures, absolutley certain items and spells; these all rely on the system that they were designed for. With the system and it's individual crunchy components being designed around the assumption that all the components are semi-nonnegotiable it makes it hard to remove one part without changing a bunch of other things.

That's the main reason that rather than remove alignment whole-cloth with one stroke of the GMs eraser, I spent years making it go away through the actions of characters within the world. At first, the PC (who was the greatest saintly Good-guy, er...Good-girl? ever walk the world) didn't realize what she was involved in though. She was under the assumption that she was on a crusade to eradicate evil. it was only much later (and thankfully her Wisdom score was much higher by then) that she realized that removing both frm the spectrum of mans influences was a Good thing to do.

Now, the entire thing hinges along the axis of Selfish vs. Selfless. Since those two things are far more subjective to an individuals interpretations of their own actions, it allows for situations where morally ambiguous outcomes fuel the narrative and tension of the campaign. True, I didn't completely remove alignment...I just replaced it with a system that is almost impossible to quantify on paper; and that was the intention. To take alignment away from the rulebook and give it back to the story.

One of the major flaws of the D&D alignment system as well as other approaches to that end, is that it is applied at character creation. True, many players tend to have a fairly good image of the character they intent to play, but intent and execution just as often don’t match. Campaign background and style, group interaction and last but not least the much denied but ever-present personal playing style can all be factors that quickly change or even destroy the first concepts, more often than not invalidating previous choices in alignment. Even worse if alignment becomes a straightjacket , which most likely will happen to new players and make their first experience needlessly complicated.

My players and me always felt more comfortable to start out with a blank alignment, taking in the campaign and finding a group rhythm, before deducing alignment from character background and the first dozen hours of play. Also, to stay with the specifics of D&D for a while longer, an incremental process proved to be best, in a first step choosing only one “radical” part of alignment – either evil, good, chaotic or lawful – and later adding the second half, if and only if it becomes apparent that the character concept can carry it and the player is comfortable with it.

As to the ingame impact, I always felt that alignment is mostly relevant only as a guideline for the GM. An evil PC is a sign by the player that he plays an evil soab – which in turn affects the way the GM needs to plan motivating rewards for his adventure design. Same goes for NPCs, especially the more unimportant ones.
Another exemplary application is storytelling: “You all feel an unnamable dread, as if an unavoidable catastrophe is drawing near.”, followed by detect evil spell of the group cleric revealing great evil approaches, may be a cheap way to prepare for the encounter with big bad uberboss. But it is rather more convenient (and interactive) than having to improvise a terrifying, atmospheric description of the nearing baddie (because the player have as usual ruined your carefully laid plans and force you to frantically search your notes for the stats while trying to keep the player tension…).

Flourbert, those are some great observations. Perhaps alignment would indeed be an easier pill to swallow for many gamers if you picked it at level 5 or so instead of at level 1, once you have a better idea of who your character actually is.

It could be better done thatw ay. The only catch would be spells and items that function only for or on certain alignments.

We generally used alignment as a sliding scale back when we used it. A PCs alignment didn't dictate their actions...their actions dictated their alignment. That way you could be whatever alignment you desired at creation, but as the campaign progressed your alignment would change to suit the things you were actually doing. This always caused the arguements mentioned above ("That's not a good act!"..."Yes it is, and here's why!"), but those arguements happen anyways if alignment is used; they may as well be happening for a good reason.

Again D&D: To my knowledge, very few spells or items that are or should be made available to low-level-PCs rely on alignment. Those few who do can be categorized as PC-PC-interaction or PC-world-interaction. The first I would chose to ignore (leaving my players to roleplay on their own for the first few levels), the later I would either postpone (the villain probably has enough time to discover what the character are about, and the rest of the NPC can just assume) or play out ((semi-)sentient items trying to discern a valid usr or manipulate an invalid user are much more fun).

As to the “sliding scale” argument: I completely agree to the logic of alignment following action, although I would still prefer to ignore aligment at character creation. It's like finding friends by what party they voted for in the last election.

I see your point about low-level PCs and how those things don't necessarily affect them at those levels. I've just always been of the mind that if it exists, it exists all the time. Let me explain that; I can't sleep at night knowing that the only reason alignment specific items or spells aren't affecting the PCs in my campaign is because they aren't at that level yet. Those things are still out there somewhere, and as such I need to know how the interact with the PCs even if they aren't going to. That's where the sliding scale comes in (or at least, where it used to come in before I got rid of alignment in favor of a system we find more preferable yet still flavorful;))

In my mind ignoring it until the PCs are high enough level is the same as saying that there aren't any dragons in those woods...yet. Come back in a few levels and the kobolds won't be here, the great green will be.

Ok, let me specify: (first) alignment choice should not happen as PCs reach a certain level, it happens when the player is ready, which is (usually) as soon as 3rd level, or 6-8 hours of play. Think of a sliding scale process that starts when the player knows where the initial value should (or might) be.
The basic idea is to protect the player from a bad, more or less binding choice as well as the GM from a wildly fluctuating sliding scale at first few hours of play.

I was pretty sure that was what you meant. :) It's exactly this that made me slowly weed alignment out in-game. Even when two people are pretty sure they're talking about the same thing, their way of saying it can be completely different. Hence the alignment dilemna in gaming as a whole. It's like six blind men trying to describe an elephant.

For what it's worth...the way alignment and religion works in my own setting is very in line with my own personal beliefs. I think it may be like that with most people, whether they admit it or not. I'm sure if we all had a religious conversations we wouldn't be surprised by what we heard...either by comparison to our mode of address on this site, or by the individual components of our own settings (if we have one) or the way we interpret or use others material. Most people aren't surprised when they discover my beliefs after lookinga t the way things play out in my campaigns.

I've noticed that the game-specific "alignment" systems can indeed be troublesome. Alderac's Legend of the Five Rings, with its Honor system, comes to mind. Admittedly, there is a measure of external force applied--the code in question is handed down from the heavens--and there are both in-game benefits and penalties to be found for honor ranks (somewhat like what Gamerchick describes in UA), but a lot of people, especially those who come into games from the "usual" D&D perspective (encouraged in 4th ed; read the bit about paladins), exemplified by our good Gazgurk, have problems; when I was running, I often got complaints about the honor system. Some were simply munchkin-complaints; they went on killing sprees, and their honor fell, which confused and annoyed them. Others were interpretive questions, but those got to be fairly fun on a few occasions; one even sparked a quest to redeem honor.

It gets even more fun when, as Gamerchick points out, one gets into other belief systems.

So, yes, alignment can be a pain, though the L5R method of establishing a standard starting honor (with the ability to buy it up or down at character creation) and a fairly solid reward/penalty system set up seems to be a happy medium. Most of the time.

I'm always glad to see that this site still works. It helped get me into grad school, which has been a good experience.

One of the most common questions new players ask me (on the rare occasion we play with someone new) is, "what about my alignment?" And then everyone at the table laughs and stories about Asha start being told, and I have to rein everyone in and get the session back on track. The thing I like the most about gaming is that it's just a tool...I once opened a can of coke with a hammer, so obviously tools can be used in different ways.

The alignment (or equivalent) question is always a good one for conversation; especially since it's a new conversation every time because the participants in said convesation get older and have a different take every time it comes up. I used to be pro-alignment under the proviso that it be used a descriptor rather than a guide for action. Then I was fiercly anti-alignment. Now I'm pro-alignment again, as long as it has nothing to do with good and evil and is instead representative of actions dictating view rather than some "all encompassing worldview which states that A is good and B is evil".

So seriously...Gamegrene helped get you into grad school? That's worth a thread in it's own right; how gamegrene has affected your life. LOL.

NO. Go eat quiche!

Ooo! Ooo! I'm a snooty roleplaying type, too! Can I have a t-shirt?

I'm sure you all know my feelings on D&D's alignment from a previous rant wherin Cocytus and I ranted long and loud, and others counter-ranted. It was quite entertaining. :)

I have several "thoughts" with this article and the discussion that followed, so I'll try and keep them organized.

First, I wanted to talk about and possibly vindicate the system in nWoD, which I actually like a lot. First, the complaint that the Virtue/Vice system is to rigid or western seems to me to be unimportant. The advantage to it is that it, unlike D&D's troublesome alignment, is not embedded in the world and the rules. There is nothing that only works for "wrathful" types, or only for "charitable" people. The various virtues and vices can be changed. I ran a game where we invented a vice and a virtue (after hours of conversation and deliberation) for one particular character. As long as that character and I know what the vice and the virtue are and what that means for the character's choices, this works beautifully. This is something that will have to be figured out between the two of you, but it works well when done correctly.

Most every advantage I can see in UA (based on the little knowledge gleaned from this article, granted) is also in WoD. There are conflicting virtues and vices, meaning that characters have the potential to react badly or...goodly (it's late, leave me alone!) to any situation, especially one involving that virtue or vice (as all the best situations should). The main problem here is the morality scale, but I think this can also be fixed. For one D&D game I ran I combined WoD's morality (on a much smaller scale), D&D's alignment, a madness system from a D&D supplement by Mike Mearles (before his Wizards days) and another madness/physical degeneration system from Heroes of Horror (good book). This taught me a lot about morphing moralities to fit your world. This world, being D&D after all, was significantly more violent than WoD, and so the violence scale had to be pulled back greatly. Killing an orc or even a human (that attacked you) was no big deal - in this world, morality operated mostly by the sword, and one of the challenges and central themes of the campaign was whether or not the characters could stay above this or would become it.

The point being that you can change the sliding scale to fit your campaing. It's another thing that doesn't have massive amounts of game material riding on it (though more than the virtues and vices). However, I wouldn't suggest changing the morality system's for Werewolf and all that unless you've got an extremely good reason to.

Anyway, there was another thing I wanted to talk about. This is something gamerchick mentioned quite a bit and that really hit me Folgha's last comment. He talks about his players going on killing sprees, then "losing honor", then being confused about it. I'm sorry, but there appears something extremely wrong here. I find this to be the central problem of quantifying morality into a number system, in that it becomes just that - a series of numbers. It's not about having done something wrong, it's about dropping a number. I'm coming to the conclusion that the only good morality system is a good GM - anotherwords, that when a character does something wrong, they face the consequences for it, in-world consequences, that is. If a character goes on a killing spree, much, much more should happen then losing honor! Players have come to expect that GMs will just make them change their alignment or whatever when they do something bad, and some GMs have even used it as a stick to keep their players in line. I think this is wrong. Players should know that killing someone will probably land them in jail, and most likely have lynching gangs after them, if not more. If I had a player doing "bad things" and being smug about it, just because he/she can, I would kill that player. The only real solution to this problem is good GMing and encouragement at the table to play realistically. Which I guess is part of the problem - that seems to be in short supply.

Good thing we've got gamegrene. And, Scott, that should be a topic. We should open one up. That'd be fun to read. Might swell aeon and morbus' heads though...

Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Tzuriel. I wanted to respond to what you said about the nWoD Virtue/Vice system. While the advantages you point out are true (and I do indeed prefer it to alignment), the point isn't that I can modify the system if I want - that goes without saying and I can do that with any game. The point is that if the game has a good enough morality system, I shouldn't *have* to modify it to get what I want. That's why I like UA's system better - it doesn't come with preconceived notions of what makes up a rage, fear, or noble stimulus. The player decides that based upon the character's background and personality, which leaves the field much more wide open for different perspectives than trying to shoehorn a character into a Virtue or Vice that may not really fit. But if adding a new one worked for you, hey, more power to you - I just wish I didn't have to consider doing that in the first place!

In response to the quiche comment; I think having your view of a person shaped by the way they like to participate in an imaginary world through the actions of imaginary people is somewhat unrealistic.

For the record though; if I ate quiche I'd eat it rare.

...I don't even know what quiche is.

You win, gamerchick, though I still think the whole concept of a morality system is wrong-headed, at least in the numbers sense. What's in UA, though, does sound very interesting. I'll have to check it out.

Tzuriel - as I said in the article, I prefer games without a morality system as well, and I totally agree with the reasons you stated for that. But if I have to use one, or if that's what my players want, UA is my choice. It is really a great game, and does almost everything right setting- and flavor-wise. FWIW, my players hated its percentile system and had to be dragged through the game kicking and screaming because of that - and mechanically it does indeed come up a little short in that regard. But if you don't froth at the mouth at the thought of percentiles, you'll probably enjoy it a lot. (c:

"The end result is that all characters in UA, no matter how saintly or evil they might seem, are fully capable of violence and righteous fury, acts of supreme cowardice, and moments of utter heroism - not unlike real human beings. What's more, including the three stimuli at the beginning of character generation gets players thinking about what really motivates their characters, and displaying a much wider and deeper range of believable behaviors because of it."

That sounds fabulous. What resonates most with me is that we have a situational connection to the psychology. I'm not one to like rules about the personality/psychology of a character but this rule is clever. What I would add is a mechanism to adjust the stat bona to allow a disposition towards certain responses (Rage/Fear/Nobility) so that I could create a character with a +2 rage stimulus to captivity, +1 fear stimulus to water, and a +3 Noble stimulus to children. With this the mechanism has allowed me to freely shape my character to respond to situations in the way that I want. The rules are used to support the condition. Perhaps more than just Rage, Fear, and Nobility, could be modelled by this scale. What if deception or cruelty made that list? Characters would be induced to act according to their stimuli not because of an alignment, but because their natural disposition gives them an advantage being that way.

I think this idea is amazing -- I'm going to go get Unknown Armies to see what it is all about.

UA is hands down my favorite game.

As much as I like all of these different approaches (and UA sounds the best by far), I still find myself wondering...why is this even necessary? I know the topic isn't that, and I should take my two cents elsewhere; but I can't keep it in! LOL. At no point have I ever found myself troubled trying to get players to come up with believable moral or ethical stimuli, and then getting them to stick to them rather than abuse them. Needing some kind of system or mechanic in place to handle it seems to me to be a sign that the wrong people are sitting at the gaming table for your style as a GM. Maybe I've just been lucky with players so far...

...of course, I also turn away far more roleplayers than I let into my group. So maybe I really *have* just been lucky.

All the same though...UA does sound like it has the best spin on it. If I was going to use some kind of alignment or morality system that is actually tied to the rules themselves, it'd be that one.

"Needing some kind of system or mechanic in place to handle it seems to me to be a sign that the wrong people are sitting at the gaming table for your style as a GM. "

I disagree. I am a fervant detractor of an alignment system -- any alignment system. However, this mechanic allows players to recognize and engage the environment. It helps support a role dynamic in the group. Rules in a role-playing game are used to resolve uncertain events. Skewing the results to favour a character acting along a certain path is an acceptible convention in my estimation. Fear, anger, and righteous indignation can be strong motivators to encourage a character. The rule is transparent -- I understand why my character gets the bonus. Thus, I understand when it does or does not logically apply. If, for instance, my character does not recognize that children are involved he cannot gain a motivational bonus. The rule is balanced -- all players in the game are entitled to the same bonus. The rule is simple -- after the brief explanation I was given, I liked it. I am sure that I have to go get the game to see what context it fits into, but it came across pretty easily. The rule is not artificial --it does not create a meta-game situation where players are doing things illogical because of the existence of the rule. The only exception relates to the fear bonus. Players could seek out their fear situation because they have a tactical advantage in such circumstances. To balance that a house rule could be created so that the bonus is only given when they are trying to escape their fear stimulus, attack their rage stimulus, or uphold their nobility stimulus. In fact that may be the way that it is explained in the game.

Like I mentioned; if one has to use a rule, then this is a great one. It's just too bad that we need a rule for it. But I'm about 90% fluff, 2% crunch, and 8% beer most of the time anyways. I know it seems odd that a fervent supporter of all things d20 like myself would be argueing in favor of less rules, but my dichotomy of opinions is part of my charm ;P.

I've recently started applying business theory to gaming, and so I see the error in using mechanics that support one style of play when you are in fact in favor of a completely different style of play. That's where alot of my "get them off the bus" rhetoric comes from lately. If someone needs a certain parameter or metric to have fun, so be it. But if you as a GM are including it because it makes one player happy, that player is on the wrong bus. If *all* the players want it, but the GM doesn't...then they have the wrong driver. I have all the right people on the bus right now and I'm taking it exactly where they all want to go, so I don't have to sacrifice what I want to do for what they want to do. These are the best gaming years of my life because of it.

I guess what I'm getting at is that compromise has a very limited application in my life, gaming included. And I'm far happier because of it.

All that being said though; one thing that I don't know if any of us (myself included) has addressed (at least not in a way that made me have an "AHA!" moment) is the *why* of it all. We've mentioned different ways of handleing alignment, different ways it affects the setting or the PCs within that setting, and different stats and numbers to back it up in a more believable way. But what about the why? What intrinsic and essential element does this alignment thing even add to our games? I'd like to say "none", but that's certainly not true; otherwise when I had the chance I would have removed it completely instead of replacing it with something more amorphous (selfish vs. selfless) and essentially statless. I completely neutered it's "on-paper" usefuleness and effectiveness but decided to keep it around anyways for some reason.

I'll posit the theory that it's intrinsic in man as a species, and therefore must but intrinsic in our fiction.

When we are younger, our campaigns involve good vs. evil as a static contest. There are good guys (PCs) and bad guys (orcs). It's not fair to say "when we are younger" either. I should have instead said something else, but can't think of what that something else would have been. As we as people mature, grow, change, or just have our interests shift about...we sometimes stretch it out further. This is usually when we start to look at good vs. evil not as a fight to be won but rather as a question to be asked. As we start to question the nature of good and evil in our own lives we necessarily begin to ask those same questions through our hobby. We start to look for reasons not to use alignment, we start to ask why we even used it to begin with. We start to look for ways to replace it with a system that makes more sense in regards to what we ourselves have seen (or not seen) in the real world.

Or, we decide that it's more fun when PCs are good, orcs are bad, and we just leave it that way; which is equally correct (tips hat to Gazgurk).

So, if we have these philosophical questions in our minds as people we will likely explore them in gaming. What better place to apply a test strip to basic behaviors and decide what we (as people, not as players or characters) feel about them. I played a character with wings once...I needed rules for those wings because neither myself nor anyone else at the table had ever been winged. There really aren't rules for walking though, because we all know how to do that and what to generally expect when encountered with a walking scenario. I played someone very sanctimonious and pious once...I chose to disregard the rules for those traits and just roleplayed. Unfortuneatly I played that PC very stereotypically, as I have no idea what people like that feel like in the real world...I only know how their actions appear from my own point of view. (the character *was* fun, it *was* cool, and everyone else *did* enjoy him. he seemed real enough at the time but in retrospect would ahve benefited from the application of a few alignment rules)

Ignoring things like spells and items, this is the real reason for alignment rules I would guess. The arguements that stem from alignment (and I've been in many of them) generally have nothing to do with this rule or that rule...they have to do with our very real world POV on the topic at hand, whatever that may be. Often the shared reality of the games setting has it's own strictly (or not so strictly) defined rules of what is good and what is evil, intended to staveoff just these sorts of arguements...but if I can't learn something about myself while doing something I rarely do it. Hence the arguements that spring up around alignment in general.

People don't set out to break alignment rules in an effort to "break the system" or "cheat the game" (at least not the majority...I'm sure some do). I think they do it to explore their own idea of what "good" and "evil" actually are.

A morally ambiguous system seems to be the best choice then (like the one in UA), so that players or GMs with various religious or spiritual or moral inclinations don't have to interpret good or evil...rather it becoms a stimulus-response system independant of dogma, factions, or real world stereotypes.

Whcih is good...because I can only stand getting so much jam in my peanut butter.

Gilgamesh - in response to your comments about the fear stimulus in UA, note that the fear stimulus ONLY gives a bonus when the character is escaping from the stimulus. So if a character's fear stimulus is large dogs, she only gets the bonus when she's running away from a pack of ferocious Dobermans, not when she stands her ground to fight them. (In fact, in that second situation it would probably be much harder for the character to fight the dogs, since she would have to make a madness check upon first encountering them - which is another aspect of the fear stimulus that I neglected to mention in the article, since it was tangential to the main point.) Unless characters really want to run away from their fear stimulus at every turn, the problem you mentioned really didn't exist in my experience. Same goes for rage (you only get the bonus when attacking it) and noble. So the house rule you proposed actually already exists within UA. See why I love this game?

Scott Free - Gilgamesh has already said everything I would have wanted to say about why use a morality system in the first place, so I won't belabor the point any further!

UA does sound interesting, at least in theory. The idea of binding morality to a game mechanic is normally only interesting to me as is, say, doing my taxes, but it smells like UA has something I've vaguely wanted before. I took a lot of psychology in school, and I've thought about trying to design an emotional/social mechanic that chunkifies social interaction, just as most games have mechanics for combat. It seems like that concept has been partly captured in UA...

On a limb, I'll suggest that the real reason that games have alignment is because of cultural influence from religion. And politics. We learn it from school tv, parents. Zoroastrianism certainly had the abstract Good and Evil. Christianity. Islam. Buddhism has, in my opinion, realistically embodied good and evil by keeping it where it belongs, in the mind of humans. So something like this is universally human. When angered repeatedly by someone, you might come to feel hate, loathing, want to do things that will hurt them. You might have a feeling about them that we can call, if we agree, a feeling that they are evil. Regardless of that, they're certainly causing you to somehow fill yourself with bad stuff. You know your friends, you know those who aren't. D&D has an abstract alignment system, but our lives have something else, like a socio-emotional alignment. It has ethics and morals, and I personally think these are driven powerfully by emotional reactions, and focused and tinted by the lens of our life experience. Poets and prophets and lovers have felt evil and felt good. It's in the water, so it got into the games.

Did I mention I think alignment systems are weak?

I still think my favorite system for *morality* is in Palladium (here: ).
It's less sytematic, and more a set of laundry lists. It works super well with the way I think, and is a good way of reminding yourself what your character is like. There's no assumptions of abstraction, as far as I can tell, but you can get the basics of your character verbally described. I'm fond of the idea of a list of things that a given character might find acceptable and unacceptable, and noting those for later reference. It isn't a straight jacket, and there's no real game mechanic that prevents you from changing later, should the change make sense. Yet you still get the coarse granularity that lets you understand, peeking at a NPC sheet, what you might expect in the long run from a Miscreant.

I had one prof who said more than once, that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. That reminds me immediately of Flourbert's approach. Don't write skills on your sheet that you don't have. Don't take skills that your character clearly shouldn't have. Don't lie by claiming an alignment before you're character has been proven.

I'm also recently particularly fond of the GURPSish approach, where notable psychological traits stand in for extreme "moralities" or "alignments". These all count as disadvantages since the definition of a disadvantage includes things that constrain character behaviors. If you're ok with the disadvantage notion, then you should feel comfortable being on the cutting edge of moral agnosticism! Since good and evil don't actually exist as entities or energies, GURPS doesn't model them explicitly, and instead models things like Jealous and Bloodthirsty. Or Callous. The root of "evil" is in vices. Vices do exist, we can agree (just maybe we don't always count the same things as vices)...if your character has some vice, there's a good chance you can express it in terms of a disadvantage in existence, and if not, it's so easy to make your own to remind you later, and give you a goal for characterization and even character growth.

Is GURPS's equivalent to alignment a straightjacket? Does it make things too 2D? Does UA's reaction stimuli make things 2D too? (2D is bad metaphor, because D&D literally has a 2D alignment system! Ha!)

In some ways the UA approach shouldn't be considered in the "Alignment" discussion because it lacks the breadth to speak to morality. It is a specific rule; and while it may suggest a morality, it certainly cannot encompass one. That has typically been my criticism of other morality systems -- they try to be general. Because each person comes to morality through the lens of personal perception, these generalizations do not fit the individual metaphor of psychology that we all have. Some systems work well for some people because they resonate. If we step back from whether we like it or not, we could examine whether the rule system encompasses a variety of perspectives. A general system that tries to address everything will fail. A system that is specific and allows a player to fill in the blanks with the yardstick by which they will measure themselves will satisfy. In essence, I believe players should build their own individual alignment system.

There are many ways to read a book (schools of literary criticism). There are many ways to interpret behaviour (schools of psychology). They all have their merits. A game that keeps its rules specific avoids building a bias into the interpretation of things.

Okay, so I basically avoided this site for a time while I gathered my thoughts on this subject, which I am wont to do when I have questions concerning a topic that bother me. But, those thoughts are gathered, and I will now proceed to spill them here.

I totally agree with Gilgamesh's last post here. Morality is, ultimately, a personal matter, as in that we each live by a personal code, and the longstanding problem with morality systems in roleplaying games is that they try to generalize something that is deeply personal, and so most of us have trouble with this, particularly those of us that aren't particularly religious or are willing to part a little from standard Christian ethics.

But, still, when reading gamerchick's article, I had some trouble with UA's system, though it seems to satisfy the requirement that it be personal. This could be attributed to a strange fanboyism for one of my favorite games (told you I'd take up Lorthyne's standard), but I think it goes deeper than that. The fact of the matter is UA doesn't satisfy what I'm looking for in a moral system.

Morality is a funny thing. I'm not going to go into the philosophical discussions concerning it as I feel Scott tackled those pretty well and I don't pretend to know exactly where we get our moral sensibilities from (yet). But, it seems people focus on one thing at a time, depending particularly on the state of the day. And, now, we're really focusing on motivation. It's important, but it's not the only thing, and that's why I can't classify it as a morality system. Morality holds many functions. One is definitely to provide adequate motivation to do "good things," which is what UA seems to focus on. But there are other aspects. Judgement, for example, is perhaps the most complex and confusing aspect. Because, morality being personal, how can you judge an act? Yet you must, otherwise society collapses. Judgement can't be ignored in an attempt to quantify something so precise and complex. And, from what I've been able to gleen, the last of the three, we need consequences. There are some actions we don't take not because they're a "bad thing" for others, or because it threatens society, but just because they have bad consequences. Like doing drugs, or, arguably, pornography.

D&D falls flat on many of these levels. It's approach is far too abstract to be useful, forcing everyone to bring in their interpretations and play mortal combat with them, leading to many of the discussions you see here. In the end, everyone is forced to bend to the GMs way of looking at things, even if that's someting like "killing babies for Pelor is okay." Obviously, a bad system.

UA excels at one of the three qualifiers at the expense of the other two. It captures motivation almost perfectly and simply by focusing on strong feelings instead of trying to outline everything. But it's so personal, so gray that it's useless from the outlook of consequences and certainly from the outlook of judgement, both of which are important, even for a game.

World of Darkness is a particularly interesting system. It's the only system I've found yet to have a built in MORAL consequence system, but it can feel fake, particularly with the Virtues and Vices. World of Darkness excels at judgement and consequences, but fails spectacularly at motivation with a reward system that seems far too unreal to be taken seriously (for the record, I think it makes sense but meets trouble with the idea of measuring willpower as well as that the ST has trouble making the right situations that aren't too much or too little). You can easily judge on the sliding scale where you fall (or are falling) and the consequences are summed in the degenerations you accrue, though I agree that I have trouble with this system as it is. I think it's excellent for your white soccer mom and the good college kid who just did as his parents said. But someone raised on the street, living by gang retaliation and dope dealing? Most of these people resort to a form of sociopathy, not crazy OCD or shizophrenia. For this reason, I think the number of degenerations should be cut down, to things that really make sense. People do not develop schizophrenia from moral failings. They do, however, develop depression.

It also all comes down to what your looking for. If all you want is something simple that says "me good, you bad," than D&D's got you covered. If you're looking to go deeper but still focus on fun, I think UA's system is a good system. WoD goes deeper and aims for a much greater importance given to morality and it's labrythine passages. I think the best system will have to be developed by us, however.

We should combine UA and WoD's systems. Have a scale people go up or down on, consequences for going down (preferably psychological) to cover judgement and consequences, keep the abstract system concerning willpower and virtues and vices, though letting players come up with their own (perhaps naming a few of the traditional ones as suggestions). Then slap on UA's system for motivation in the moment, adding the personal element but not devaluing judgment. What do you think? Ideas on how to do it?

I don't think I give a rat's ass

Nice of you to pop in and let us know that. LOL.

Tzuriel, I think it's a great idea. I'd be in to getting some people fro various moral and ethical backgrounds and belief systems together and hammring out details. Then we have several different points of view on the subject from a real world perspective and can make sure that we aren't rewarding one real worlds system of beliefs over any other. The difference between right and wrong in various theologies causes alot of my beef with alignment in general.

It's almost time for an MSN exchange here. Tzuriel, shoot me a message and we'll exchange info out-of-public. (I was going to do this myself, but your "Contact" tab is disabled"

I have managed to rpetty much run games where alignment is nigh-irrelelvant in DnD. Honestly, it doesn't affect the mechanics too horribly. And I rarely pay attention to it, myself. I just enforce the business of consequences, comign in both unforseen and seen ways.

And since you mentioned theolgoies, I find those far more useful than alignemtns when dealign with Clerics and Paladins. Cuthbert's Paladin's and Pelor's Paladins totally act differently in my opinion. But I'm the first to admit tha'ts my take on a very unique world.

Thoughtfully yours,

I have looked at all the above comments, but I am primarily responding to gamerchicks original article from my own experiences.

First I will start with the following, I do not mean this as a joke (though it can be seen that way).
I have played all the games mentioned in the article and more. From this I have learned one thing. Some but not all players use the following alignment PLAYERCHARACTERGAMER. It is a unique alignment that essentially allows Call of Cthulhu characters find an excuse to break into the British Museum, even though you are an upper middle class Oxford Don with a credit rating of 80% (the closest way of modeling the kind of person who would never think of such a thing in that system). This alignment allows characters to kill the cultist in a Delta Green campaign and never worry about it ever again. It is an alignment I see often, it is the alignment that sometimes allows for a fun game, but sometimes ruins the moment. I have played chracters with this alignment and been thanked for it, but I have also played this alignment and been hated for it. To be honest it depends on the type of game you want to play.

Alignment or Morality. If it is used in a game it should be a very important part of the theme of the game. It should be expressed in some of the dice rolls and have an impact on the characters.

As written Ad&d and 3.5 does have an impact on the game, it is built within the mechanics of the system, but (and it is an imprtant but) the way the alignment is measured and monitiored is entirely subjective. This is what allows for all those arguments, it is also why most people play Chaotic Good, because its the closest to PLAYERCHARACTERGAMER you are ever going to find.

There is something important with NWoD, its a recogntion that the majority of the people who are going to play it come from the Western World and therefore for are likley to have a JudeoChristian background. This means that it should not surprise anyone that most of the games they have written come from this perspective. It does annoy me to be honest when people complain that they cannot play someone from another cultural background. Ask yourself this question. Can I really know what it is to actually be an Iranian Shi'ite Muslim? I know I never could. And my portrayal would possibly be insulting at worst, or foolish at best. Therefore the New World of Darkness is unahsamedly western in orientation, they have not done this to pick on other cultures, they have done this so you can play characters you understand, with a morality system you were very likely exposed too at a very early age. Even those of us who do not call ourselves Christian would have been, because its in the water we drink and the food that we eat. We cannot really escape from it.

To start with I will look at the virtues and vices. They are easy to understand, if they have a weakness they are too broad, however if you are new to roleplaying they serve a good as a good benchmark for what the games wants you to do. The rules as written have been done so with care, in fact the rules have been written in order to make sure that you burn willpower. Especially in moments of high drama, high stakes or where your life is on the line. This means in the end you will be driven to act to the core of your nature. A storyteller should always keep a good eye on his players choices of virtues and vices and provide ample opportunities for these to figure in the game. For example if I choose HOPE/WRATH and I am playing an ex gang member who has turned straight, who now tries his damndest to give the kids in the area a different outlet rather than the route I went down. Surely there could be something to pick there. Perhaps I tried to get a new basketball court built but the local councliors are stalling. In a WoD mortals game this could be due to some bad influences, in a Hunter:The Vigil game this could be used as my introduction to the fact that Vampire are ruining the city. But whatever it is. If my willpower is sapped, for what ever reason a situation can come up. Do I bring my best efforts to the table and talk for the kids in the area, or do I fall to my wrath upon learning the news just to fuel the chance down the line.

In the end it is up to me. But all the games I own in the NWoD line want situations like this presented to the players. The entire point is, do I do something nice and retain my morality/humanity/wisdom or what have you. Or do I do something pretty terriable and risk losing it, and getting deranged on top. Eventually the bad stuff seems easier. And to me this is the point of every NWoD game. The bad stuff is easier. Afterall its personal horror, and the way to fuel that is to turn me into the bad guy.

Of course the more experienced you are as a rolelpayer the easier it is for you to explain to your storyteller the specific triggers of your wrath or hope. And to me this is were the book goes wrong. They present only one answer to each virtue and vice rather than giving advice on how to construct someone who is driven by greed, pride or envy. And then helping you to explain to the storyteller how that vice could push or pull you.

The other weakness is that the book presents some easier than others, but is it a weakness? The more I read them the more I see that there are some vices that are incredibly easy to react to than others. I do have a question for you (gamerchick if you still come here to read these), what pairs do you most often see?


Unknown Armies has the Madnees Meter. Remember the name. It is not something that measures morality, it measures Madness. What I love about the madness meter is that the situation and the role you make determines wether you would run away and curl up in a ball, or just stand there and think what was happening was not really that interesting. You are crazy either way. And that is all the Madness Meter does. Do you fail a check, and therefore recoil from what caused you to fail the check next time, or did you pass the check, and therefore have a better chance of not really noticeing it. It is the difference between hiding scared in your fox hole, or telling the scared soldier "I decided when I landed I was already dead".

The Madness Meter does not measure morality. The Noble/Wrath measures are the closest measure and like every other system I know they are just as black and white as any other. However they do allow player choice and thefore control. Still they are very specific and can therefore be extremely narrow. Making pretty much every other thing in the world something that washes over you. They do come close to allowing you to create a personal morality system. But if we did that we would really be helping those players that like portraying people with the PLAYERCHARACTERGAMER alignment...and that is not always what we want.

It is however a very powerful roleplaying aid. But another question. How often have you played Unknown Armies in comparison to a White Wolf product? Why?

At the end of the day Roleplaying Rules are a poor measure of a person. Modern gaming systems generally allow you to create a character who could not function on a day to day basis in any reality, other than the one they are created for, a fictional one. For a game to really work on a level of morality/humanity the system, the player and the storyrteller (or referee/gm etc) need to be on the same page. Recently I informed a group of players that I would only run NWoD once they had digested the system and spoke to me about it. Only when we are all working from the same perspective will it work.

I await a response in the hope if an interesting disucssion.

Very well said, bartmoss. huh, it seems like there's somebody else now that gives dissertations every time they leave a comment :). I think I could make a book from my comments on this site.

I particularly like what you said concerning nWoD's western perspective. What they should do, then, with this in consideration, is release a book that focuses entirely on virtues and vices, how they can be changed, and perhaps different ones for different cultures or religious views, like Islam, Confuscianism, etc. It should also talk about these religious morals and such in depth to help people play them as accurately as possible. I would totally buy that. That's one thing I've always like about GURPS books, is their almost scholarly content that fills the books. You can learn a lot from just those books. Anyway, WoD should totally come out with a book like that. That'd be cool. It could even have sections on how a Storyteller can best use this mechanic. That's the problem with the mainstream rpgs, is that new books have always got to be new material, you know, 50 new monsters, 18 new prestige classes, etc. What I'd like to see is more discussion on what's already there. A book dedicated to Morals and virtues and vices from WoD would be awesome. Something like that from D&D would be cool, too, really. I dunno. No more new rules - just flavor text. At least WoD's got the flavor text covered.

The rest I see what you're saying on and feel that my ideas above help neutralize the potential problems in each system.

What I wanted to address, however, was your statement that "Roleplaying Rules are a poor measure of a person." While that may be true (I'm pretty sure my boss has a 5, I don't think it should be. This is the simulationist in me speaking, but I think a system should allow you to create a realistic character, one that you could actually imagine meeting on the street. RPGs are all about characters, and so the characters should be interesting, fun people, people that act realistically. I think so, anyway. I think a game should allow you to create realistic characters, should facilitate and encourage it, actually. I just don't see the point of playing and developing a character if the development isn't realistic, if it doesn't make a good story, but still one that makes sense. I don't know if any games have succeeded at this, but that's my 2 cents. They should be able to be used in real life.

Tzuriel: Yes I can be a bit longwinded with my responses, but gamerchick has a lot of good things to say, so if I am going to respond, I will try my best.

As for you comments. It would be nice to see a book describing how to build characters based on the Virtues and Flaws. It would be very nice if someone could explore other cultures using the rules set, but let me stress something here. Those cultures would need to measure morality in an entirely different way, and to be honest it would probably be very difficult to do. Of all the books released for Requiem the two I have not read yet are Rome and Fall of the Camarilla. The reason is simply the morality system. Romans did not have our morality, for instance men were expected to fight and if neccessary and sometimes just to show courage, to kill. We in our world are not expected to do that. In fact we are told killing is wrong. A Roman would look at you askance for telling him killing was wrong. A Roman Citizen cannot be killed, but there is nothing wrong with killing our enemies. We were brought up in a culture in which we are told to "Love" our enemies. How does that impact on an individuals morality? I am very interested in discovering if the morality track was changed for Rome. If it was great, if it was not...well I will be confused.

If you want an idea on culture and how it can shape you, read Leviticus,its in the bible. There are cultural rules in that book that would shake the foundations of a person if they knew people were breaking them, yet you may find some of them just stupid. Showing disrespect to your parents once too get stoned to front of the rest of the town. Not doing this would be immoral. Playing a culture we have no understanding off. Very Difficult. Trying to model a collection of morality tracks to help you play the game...well it does not help the game at all (and people may play those tracks they find easiest to take certain actions in), in fact it would probably cause the game to drift from its poitn.

There are many ways a person can be Greedy, there are many ways someone can be Lustful, there are many ways someone can be any virtue or vice. The problem with the book is it only gives you one way. A good storyteller should see where his characters are going and present opportunities for both.

in response to the modeling of characters for realism.

I am not sure where you are in the world, but I will guess you are in the USA. Therefore you were probably taught to drive at a young age. Look at the Drive Skill in NWoD, if you do not have a dot in it, you are a bad driver. You are relying on your innate attributes at a negative modifier. I know you are not supposed to roll a dice unless you are stressed, and perhaps if you were ever in a car chase you should be in negative modifiers...but some systems are even worse than this, they force a level of specialisation that creates very odd characters. I have oftne played characters who were capable of many accrobatic feats, stealth on a level that is scary, could shoot a pin head. But obviously never went to high school in their life (even in those games were I was palying an officer in the millitary). All because I was creating someone good for an RPG.

An RPG by its nature is asking you to develop a character that exists in a Fictional World. RPGs allow you to model characters for this purpose, what they do not do, and to be honest, should never do, is model a person who exisits in our real world. It would be ridiculous to try. However it does mean most characters in modern day campaign worlds do look as if they could not function in our reality. I will stress again, this is not a problem. Dramatic characters exist for Drama not life.

What can be realistic is the characters wants, desires, aims, beliefs etc. This is all up to you the person that adds character. It is this that can always be achieved, and if you work on this level, the rest of it does not matter. Good RPG rules help create the type of Drama they are built for. I believe NWoD achieves its goals.

-"I am not sure where you are in the world, but I will guess you are in the USA. Therefore you were probably taught to drive at a young age. Look at the Drive Skill in NWoD, if you do not have a dot in it, you are a bad driver. You are relying on your innate attributes at a negative modifier. I know you are not supposed to roll a dice unless you are stressed, and perhaps if you were ever in a car chase you should be in negative modifiers...but some systems are even worse than this, they force a level of specialisation that creates very odd characters. I have oftne played characters who were capable of many accrobatic feats, stealth on a level that is scary, could shoot a pin head. But obviously never went to high school in their life (even in those games were I was palying an officer in the millitary). All because I was creating someone good for an RPG."

I'd like to comment on the above statement. While I agree with what you're getting at I don't necessarily agree with the specifics of how you're getting at it. Not having ranks in something doesn't mean you are a *bad* driver; it means you aren't a particularily *good* driver. If I were statted out on paper I wouldn't have any ranks in drive...but I can still drive. And it's not just isn't an area of specialization. If you've ever been to north america, you can't help but agree that most people have no ranks or dots in Drive whatsoever, yet our entire continent seems built around cars and not people.

Likewise for the second example. I know many people that can do amazing things, are amazingly skilled, and generally make anyone else compared to them look like a complete clod when it comes to certain specific comparables (woodworking, making beer, boxing, driving...the list goes on) but failed miserably at school. I know a blind guy that can carve very lifelike statues out of wood with a chainsaw, but doesn't even know what "blue" is, and never finished elementary school.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that if we narrowly define RPG characters as being completely unrealistic and not being able to function in reality then we are ignoring the very important fact that there are many things on a character sheet that we don't use everyday, and there are also many things about us that are not even on our character sheet. Allowing yourself to be defined too strictly by things written down about you...that's just too limiting to ever play a believable character. Further, not extrapolating some things about a character independant of the character sheet just can't possibly define them as believable. It just takes a bit of thought.

How does any of my contrariness relate back to alignment? Because it's the same thing only different. having an alignment is only about 25% of it. *Why* something is the way it is is far more important than just knowing that it *is*.

I understand your comments Scott, but a military officer has schooling. I found a large number of modern RPGs incapable of stating my own abilities. Read OWoD and how it ranks skills.

If you look at NWoD if you do not have the drive skill you are at -1 to your dice pool. For an average human Dex that means you are rolling one d10 when you are required to roll. You have no SKILL in drive, therefore you are unskilled in driving. If you drive in snow, rain or through fog the system would give you other modifiers. Being someone in the UK who drives upwards of 40,000 miles a year and has driven through many different weather conditions I believe I have skill of 2 dots. Why? because 90% of the time my driving is simple. However, I can drive through fog, have driven on icy roads and have had very few accidents in comparison to my mileage. However if I was designing an RPG character, even an American character, drive would be low down on my priorities. However by the age of 37 I would have expected my character to have driven quite often (though perhaps not as often as myself).

The reason I brought up my perception of characters and their skills is to point out that my believe that RPGs do not model reality, they model fiction. In fact they are modelling a specific fictional environment and they do it well. We generally accept the rules of the systems we play, if we like the model it presents we will continue playing it. I believe that NWoD's virtue and vice system is integral to the systems model and does what it sets out to do. However, if you have a problem with the virtue/vice system then surely there are other "problems" that are far more obvious in the system already.

I would disagree with your idea that someone with no dots in a skill is not a bad driver. They are, simply due to the fact that an average human faced with an icy road is likely on a chance die the moment something goes wrong. This is unrealistic, otherwise we would have far more accidents than we do. However, we know as GMs this is unimportant as we are modelling a fictional world. Therefore we are concentrating on the elements of the character we find dramatic. The Virtue/Vice system can add to the drama just as much, if not fuel many enjoyable hours of gaming. I just think it needs to be presented better to guide new players into understanding how.

I'm picking up what you're putting down bartmoss. I really am. However consider this; in real life we slow down when we see ice. We drive slower in the fog. If we don't, we're going to crash as soon as the dice turn against us. We are cancelling out negative modifiers with good sound decisions completely unrelated to our dots or ranks in said skill. Having a high enough Wisdom to make good decisions(or whatever any given system uses in place of common sense) can cancel out not having mad ranks in said skill. The people that just fly down the road with reckless abandon *do* die. In scores every year on roads around the world.

But in an RPG we can't do this as we're being chased by demons, reading a scroll, digging in a bag of holding for our immovable rod, etc. We don't have the option of slowing down or pulling over or stopping to put the chains on our tires. I still think that you might not have any dots in driving...but Jacques Villeneuve does. Likewise I don't have any dots in creative writing...but Michael Moorcock has all of them.

In as much as this relates back to alignment; it's easy for us to theorize on all this alignment stuff...but if we lived in a world where evil was actually as much a force of nature as water or air (rather than some amorphous concept to be discussed on a message board) we'd likely have a much different opinion on this topic. From outside, it looks like a goldfish bowl...from inside it looks like the ocean.

"What do you mean, do without alignment? How else will the Paladin know who's been killing my chickens in voodoo ceremonies?!?" (some anonymous 1st level commoner invited to join the panel discussion)

On the Virtues/Vices WoD book:

I think most of your concerns, bartmoss, are ultimately beside the point. If we're going to approach things from your perspective, we really can't play any of the characters we attempt to play, unless they are ourselves. The debate here goes into whether we can really "understand" anything other than ourselves, and puts everything into the same category: other. So, if we approach things this way, it doesn't matter whether you could play an Arab or a Hindu correctly, because you can't even play your own character correctly. You should know I disagree with this stance, but I'm not going to go into why. The point being the book would still be useful and interesting. And I'd totally buy it.

I'm pretty sure everyone would have one to two dots in Drive while we're on it. I like to think I have 2 to 3 dots in brawl. But, we're attempting to measure something by very abstract principles, so it'd be very difficult.

Anyway, I think all worthwhile rpgs attempt to capture a sort or realism within their settings. Every world needs rules, rules that can't be broken, even by magic or technology or whatever. The character should be realistic within this given world and within it's given rules. So, in a sense, bartmoss, I agree that in the fictional universe your character can be very different from one within our universe. But on the flip, these rules need to make sense, otherwise you lose immersion. The world isn't taken seriously. It's like those children's fantasy books, when magic is used to solve all the problems. As a child, this is fine, but as an adult, this feels cheap. There are no rules to govern it, no rules to keep things in control. What I'm getting at is no realism takes away the impact and the immersiveness of a story - I can't care about a life and death situation if you can just use magic to raise your dead companion (which is why I don't allow that in my dnd campaigns). I have no attachment to a character that doesn't have real-life concerns and real-life problems. They just don't matter to me. So, if you were to make a character as particularly different or specialized as yours, then make realistic reasons for why, things not on the character sheet. Playing a character so specialized as that would be fun, to play up the fact that he/she has nothing except this one thing and can't even function in the real world without it. That sounds like an excellent WoD, now I really wanna use that idea. Cool.

Anyway, I love stories. I get involved in stories because I think they are the best vehicle for teaching and learning that we have. So, if there's nothing to learn from a story (if there's no attachment to it) I don't see any reason in taking part in it. Sure, some stories are just fun, but, truth be told, I only watch those when I'm in a very specific mood (depressed/tired) that needs something just dumb and funny. In that case, they serve a purpose - to pull me out of my mood and my thoughts. When I create a character, it's because I wish to play with the concept behind that character. I wish to consider in story form the issues surrounding family and honor, surrounding vengeance and transcendance - because I wish to play out this journey and see where it leads. For that reason, I work best with challenging GMs who are willing to grapple with the very concepts I outline in my character history or concept. Playing a character I have no personal investment in, or who's concept I have no personal investment in, is no fun, it's not interesting. When I GM, it's because I wish to challenge my own players, to make them rethink things and, especially, to challenge what they had taken for granted. I wish to put everything in their way and see if they pull through. That's the only way a story is truly satisfying for me. If you're trying to prove a point, or verify some truth, you should go through hell for it (that's why I love dark, complicated storylines - the triumph, if there is one, feels earned, genuine).

Without realism, all of that is worthless. If the character has no risk, nothing to lose (and doesn't lose anything), the victory is crap. It's not worth the hours and hours we put into a game. Realism makes it worth doing.

Well said...

Scott fantastic point with the slowing down to compensate for problems. I like that one it makes sense.

Tzuriel, I agree with scott, well said.


I have no problems or concerns, in fact when I see discussions about alignments and systems it is because I think the person who is worried about them is looking for realism. However, I believe an RPG should have threats, it should have consequences, however none of this is realism. It is Fictional Realism, and the system is designed to help that Fictional Realism along.

Gamerchick states she is not fond of the NWoD virtue/vice system or the D&D system, she says she prefers the Unknown Armies system. However each of these games is very different.

D&D is about heroic fantasy.
NWoD is about personal horror.
Uknown Armies is a game of supernatural horror and consequences.

Therefore the systems of each if they are to bring about the fictional environment will need to do something else. Mostly I believe they work, but none of them should be considered realistic.

However, that is not a problem. It is a good thing. Fiction is not reality.

Therefore what I should be saying is this.

We create characters that fit the drama we want/hope or have been told to expect. This is a good thing. I could never model myself in an RPG properly and that is not the point, you should not model or be able to model a REAL person.

I can model a good fictional character for the game in question. This is all that is required. I can do this by embracing the system that has been presented and modelling my character accordingly.I have found that this creates a good character for the setting and the rules system being used. The only time it breaks down is when the GM ignores elements of the system that are important (though I do not see raise dead as one of them). Some games are more forgiving than others, but I have found that ignoring the virtue/vice system in NWoD takes away a great deal of what the game wants you to do from a roleplaying perspective.

I always know I am playing a fictional character, simply because an RPG demands that you behave the way most people probably would not. If hell is in front of you a fictional character is expected to march into it. Even at the cost of his own soul.

No, he's not.

You see, you and I are talking about different types of fiction. I'm talking about fiction like The Wire (an HBO tv series). It's supposed to be gritty, realistic, and to say something about our culture. If I'm getting you correctly, you're talking about stuff that is just fun fiction, and that's all it's meant to be.

And that's fine.

My point is, a roleplaying game should be able to facilitate both types of fiction (and any other types, too). I enjoy a good game or orc bashing or whatever. But what I really crave is an interesting storyline that means something. I really covered this in my previous comment, so I can't say much more. An rpg, given it's parameters and demands as a genre, will never be absolutely realistic, but it should come as close as possible, particularly in line of storytelling.

I think we are agreeing more than disagreeing, bartmoss. We both agree that an rpg (setting) should have rules, things that can't be broken and serve to facilitate the fun and enjoyment of the game. Obviously, these rules are very different depending on the game. The rules of the WoD world is very different than the rules of the D&D world. However, there needs to be some similarities between them and our world. Otherwise we can't relate, we can't gain anything from the story. In oh so many ways, morality systems are the core of the similarities. That's the problem with the D&D one in particular - it's so far out there, it doesn't even satisfy it's own world, one far too modeled on our own to be so obviously black and white. Morality is one area where realism is important, even in a fantasy world. Getting it wrong is like doing away with the law of consequences - it ruins most everything.

The key similarity, though, is the characters. Here, it's much better, as it's a lot harder to screw up creative people's characters than it is their moral systems. This is more in the players hands, like Scott was saying, given the parameters of the setting. But you can't expect more from a character than you can from an ordinary person because than the character is not human (or human-like) and therefore really not interesting or relatable (unless you really hate people). I think we can fully expect an ordinary person to walk into hell as much as we can Superman. In fact, it's so much better with the ordinary person than with superman. So much more interesting. If you don't consider realism in this, you get characters like superman, stock characters whose actions, not being motivated by things relevant to us, are ultimately uninteresting and worthless.

Are we agreed on this? I'll admit a fictional character can be very different than a nonfictional one, but I won't say they have to be. In my line of thinking, it's better when they aren't. But my line of thinking isn't everybody elses. Hell, there are people that like superman ( I like Batman, personally.

Like an ordinary person, that character of yours has a choice. He can choose to save his soul or not. That's what makes it interesting - the conflict is much less interesting and exciting if we know the outcome.

Sorry its been a long time since I posted but work got very busy.

The Wire may be gritty but it is still Drama and the characters within it follow the rules of Drama all the time. D'Angelo Barksdale in season 1 for instance, a classic tale of disillusionment. Finally he does the right thing, because he wants out of the business. So what happens then, the world turns on him and he is the only one that serves any real form of punishment, everyone else in some ways gets away with it. Though I love the show it is FICTION, and it has even been described by its creator, to paraphrase "the nearest method we could translate a novel onto TV". And because it does that so well is one of the reasons we love it".

Incidentally. D'Angelo's character...he walked into hell when he saw the opportunity.

I am sorry I used that word, what I should have said is this.

A character when confronted by conflict should march straight through the conflict, not run away from it.

A real person will spend a great deal of time trying to work around the conflict, because we are for very good reasons averse to conflict. Conflict is bad in real life, it creates all sorts of hassle. Therefore if we see conflict coming, we try to stop it.

If in the FICTIONAL environment we keep walking away from conflict we would never have the moments we strive for, and each RPG system I like is striving for different types of conflict.

I hope what I have said above now adequately describes where I am coming from. Please do not believe my comment only meant "action games".

Also to quote you.

"An rpg, given it's parameters and demands as a genre, will never be absolutely realistic, but it should come as close as possible, particularly in line of storytelling."

I agree with. Especially the last bit. It is that (particularly in line of storytelling) that game designers try to design their systems around. They work to a greater or lesser extent. For me the NWoD hits its target, as do other games.

Like I said before, I think we agree more than we disagree.

But, on characters facing/not facing conflict. There are many stories where the primary conflict is built around the character *not* facing it. I watched a movie recently called "Reservation Road" (not bad) where this guy accidentally hits another guy's son on the road with his car, killing the boy. The guy who hit the boy runs, keeps on driving. He didn't face the conflict. Which brings in the whole storyline and he tries to hide and face himself and the police are looking for him, etc., etc. I like characters that act in a realistic fashion, given who they are. Given who D'Angelo was, it made sense for him to do what he did, in every instance. I don't mind when you have a character who is created in such a way that he would face the conflict and he faces the conflict - in fact, I like that, it makes sense given the character. It's realistic for that character. But if another character comes along, she shouldn't be made to face the conflict just because it's the one offered up. Real people have their conflicts no matter what. We all have baggage. Characters should be the same way and act the same way - otherwise we have no investment in them. I really cared about what happened to D'Angelo because he was realistic, but also because I liked him. I don't care for the unrealistic characters, because I have no investment in them.

So you want realism, given the storyline. Obviously, characters will be created for a purpose, however, which will govern their actions, sometimes in a fashion that is "unrealistic" for someone else, but it suits them perfectly. There should be reasons for this, for these differences. That's what realism requires. It doesn't require that there be no fantasy, but that it be taken seriously, logically and not used just for plot exposition.

Also, the Wire is awesome. I'm glad to find somebody else who enjoys gritty, dark tv shows! :)

From reading your comment above the character in the movie "Reservation Road" did not flee from a conflict, he had the following choice.

1. Face the music. I have hit a young boy and killed him. It was an accident. I will face what is coming to me. The conflicts ahead are; Police, possibly court, Wrath of the family etc.

2. Flee. Now I have turned accidental death into at the very least the criminal act of "Fleeing From an accident". The conflict that he now faces are. Criminal Investigation, Personal Guilt (if it is a character study).

The character has not fled from conflict, the character has fled from a particular type of conflict and into another. Drama relies on conflict, when it is not there you notice and the drama feels flat.

Conflict comes in all shapes and sizes. Conflict works at its best if it fits the Theme of the drama and the core of the character. Good characters thrive on conflict (for example D'angelo, who for some reason is still my favourite character in the Wire. Right up until his death he grew and fought and grew and fought and like you said it all made sense).

I am now more certain than I ever was of the strong belief that we agree on our points, it is just we are not doing so well at communicating that fact.

Yeah, I think we do agree. There's no doubt conflict is necessary for the story - my point is that unrealism robs the conflict of it's meaning. A character like one you mentioned earlier, being a macho military way overbalanced type, has no meaning to me, until that overbalance is justified in the personality and flaws of the character. Then there's immersion and you care about this character, because, being realistic, you want them to succeed, just as you want, assuming there is one, their real-life counterpart to succeed as well.

I loved D'Angelo also. One thing about the Wire is it is not light watching. Particularly toward the end of the first season I was so pissed and torn up all at the same time. It's hard to get me that wound up, but that show does it. I've only watched the first two seasons, but I'm making my way into the third now. Another character like D'Angelo I really loved was Nick from the second season. It's funny, you grow to love the criminals more than the cops in that show. And, somebody's gotta have a happy ending in that show that deserves it. D'Angelo tore me up. I was like, NOOOO!!! Get outta the game, man! But that wouldn't have been right. His story was so striking because it was a tragedy. And that's why the Wire is so amazing.

However, I don't think conflict is unrealistic because we thrive on conflict as well. That's why we love drama - it gives us more conflict. We grow and succeed in conflict, even as we try to avoid it. But I think we've both come to the same conclusion, just in very different and seemingly contradictory ways. So we are agreed! Yay!

Tara and myself have gotten into numerous arguements trying to decide exactly what alignment Vic Mackie is from The Shield. Hands down one of my favorite alignment-based dramas.

I still think he's Lawful Good and am willing to argue at length about why. LOL.

One of the things I like about the Wire is you really can't put them into alignment. I mean, you're pretty sure you've got a character pegged and then he/she goes and shatters that conception. I love it, because they grow and develop, and aren't straight jacketed by their morals - like real people, they often discard said morals. That's the way I like. And that's why there are many problems with morality systems - they are too often static and don't allow flexible movement as the character develops.

Well, it could also be agued that though there isn't lateral movement *within* an alignment, there is certainly lateral movement *between* alignments.

The problem with alignment me and the group ran into the most was this; if we constantly are shifting between various alignments...why are we even using them? Since most (emphasis on "most") decisions can be categorized as either selfish or selfless, why don't we just use those and stop writing it down on our charaacter sheets? And so...we did. All of a sudden all the spells and items that hinged upon the old system stopped working over the course of about 6 monthes. There were in-game things happening that made it all seem seemless and realistic, but OOC it was essentially that.

Rustbelt has a pretty amazing morality system, except that it too is designed to fail over time. Basically, you get limits, and if you break them you can get woes. And woes can kill you unless you find a way to deal with yourself. Now I think that system is pretty close to genius, but it is basically all about preserving your character in a world that is being corrupted by the rust, so for other contexts I think it could do with a more positive experience system, or any conventional one at all for that matter. I also think that in a more universal world you could just set things like the nWOD morality levels as universal limits, so anyone who picks up a gun and uses it needs to justify themselves somehow, and if they use the faith option, "This is just the way the world is, you have to do it" then any pacifist they meet will be like an open wound to them, constantly challenging their excuses.

I think that the power of the alignments is that they give people something to start with, so why not get a bit more cultural and explicitly state the background morals of your character's culture, and if people want to go Drizzit, they can keep track of what they a rebelling against. Everyone wins, especially the anthropologists who's books we start buying! It's also cool as the classic alignment disputes can be embedded in the culture, so you can add player advice within setting history.

Good thinking, Josh. I like your thoughts here, especially fitting the traditional alignment system with what you've found in Rustbelt. I've never actually heard of Rustbelt - is it a good game all around?

There’s nothing wrong with liking Superman.